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TASMIN ARCHER (Buy CDs by this artist)
Great Expectations (SBK) 1993
Shipbuilding (SBK) 1994
Bloom (UK EMI) 1996

Like countryman Seal, English singer Tasmin Archer sets a course through the thorny woods of sophisticated modern pop by giving tuneful, well-crafted and lyrically substantial songs snappy arrangements that cherrypick elements from dance music, soul, rock and Top 40. A chart contender who owes more to Joni Mitchell than Janet Jackson, the Bradford native fills her first album with catchy, stylistically untethered tunes about unemployment ("Steeltown"), ecology ("Sleeping Satellite"), power brokers ("Lords of the New Church," but not the Stiv Bator song) and anxiety ("When It Comes Down to It"). Alluring, smart, well-produced (primarily by Pet Shop Boys collaborator Julian Mendelsohn) and handsomely sung, Great Expectations is an effortlessly great record, full-strength music for grownups.

For her next trick, Archer tackled four from the Elvis Costello songbook, pairing them with live renditions of three Great Expectations songs and a jazzy acoustic piano version of a fourth. Archer's well-intentioned poke at "Shipbuilding" misses the mark, turning this harrowing political poem into lugubrious grand theater. Elvis' country confessional, "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror" (from Spike), fares much better as Archer succumbs to its rueful hangover. Likewise, she picks her way safely through "New Amsterdam" by not getting too cute or sarcastic. Her Elton John-styled interpretation of "All Grown Up" sounds ready for Broadway and is just as memorable here as it was on Mighty Like a Rose.

[Ira Robbins]