Emma Bunton (formerly known as Baby Spice and now simply Emma) makes her U.S. entrance with Free Me, the follow-up to her 2001 solo debut A Girl Like Me. Released last spring in the U.K., Free Me follows patently European pop trends, blending bossa-lite rhythms with subtle acoustic flourishes and disco strings—the kind of formula Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue have perfected in recent years. Emma’s wisp-thin voice bears uncanny resemblance not to Kylie’s but Olivia Newton John’s (the closing track, “Something So Beautiful,” is her “Have You Never Been Mellow”). Surprisingly, Emma was one of the Spice Girls’ better singers (“a voice dipped in honey,” as she says on “Amazing”), but she’s still no Mel C, the only Girl to achieve any semblance of solo success in America. Emma needs good—no, make that great—songs if she’s going to make it on her own on this side of the ocean. In her corner is the album’s title track and lead single, a charming and understated Euro-lounge tune with an immediate sing-along chorus. Ditto for the effervescent “No Sign Of Life” and a cover of the Brazilian song “Crickets Sing For Anamaria.” It’s what pure pop should be—frothy and inconsequential. On the other hand, most of the album’s production, melodies, and lyrics (sample: “This is something that’s quite beautiful/Found what I’ve been looking for/Like the sunshine it’s so wonderful”) are so fragile that they practically crumble and get whisked away on a tropical puff of too-sweet pleasantness.
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