Prepackaging is damaged in transit


"Rebels" (Virgin/EMI Televisa)

** 1/2

"Celestial" (EMI Televisa)


No matter what Mexico goes through -- armed rebellions, political upheavals, crime waves -- its mainstream pop music stays as constant and conventional as a quinceanera, the traditional debutante ball. The massively popular group RBD, which stands for Rebelde, is just the latest in a series of prefabricated bands tied to television that have dominated Mexico's pop music market for the past quarter-century

This group of six beautiful young people -- three boys and three girls -- is even produced by the same man, Pedro Damian, who was behind the '80s group Timbiriche, which gave us current solo stars Thalia and Paulina Rubio. RBD was originally created for a hit Mexican soap opera on which its members play friends who start a band. Critics may yawn, but Latino teens have bought their CDs by the millions and mobbed their shows.

Now, RBD is aiming for the goal of all ambitious enterprises -- a bigger market. With "Rebels," its first English-language album (in stores Tuesday), the group is attempting what no other Mexican pop act has successfully achieved -- a pop crossover in the United States.

Buena suerte. This may be the wrong material at the wrong time. The Latin crossover craze long ago went kaput. And it's hard to see how the band can buck the trend with this bland collection of teenage love songs entirely too wholesome for U.S. kids raised on the brazen sexuality of MTV.

In the first single, the bilingual "Tu Amor," a couple of these made-for-TV rebels coo words of love to each other during an instrumental break, a syrupy exchange that harks back to a '50s innocence. The only ones who wish teenagers behaved like this today are their parents.

This production, half new songs and half translations, also seems too slack and lackadaisical for today's hyped-up teen market. Even the reggaeton-styled "Wanna Play" could use a shot of adrenaline.

RBD learned to pronounce English fairly well, but lost its personality in the process. Without a soap opera here to hook fans on its looks, the band will have an uphill battle selling its English music on its own terms. But don't fret for RBD. Its new Spanish-language album, "Celestial," is already a smash almost anywhere homes get TV signals and Spanish is spoken.

The almost simultaneous release of both albums just proves that music is not a universal language, as the band asserts. There is something subtly Mexican about "Celestial," a style and essence missing from its English counterpart. Taken in their own element and language, you can see how kids can relate to these clean-cut and harmless rebels. And how Mexico has its future stars prepackaged when this crop grows up and decides to go solo.

Albums are rated on a scale of four stars (excellent), three stars (good), two stars (fair) and one star (poor). Albums reviewed have been released, except as indicated.

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