Center Stage [Sony]

More a marketing plan than an album, the soundtrack to Center Stage is a various artists compilation of contemporary pop music tied irrelevantly to a movie about ballet dancers who, in the film, dance to classical music. You'd never know that from this CD, which is nothing more or less than an attempt to break one or more new teen pop acts. Mandy Moore has already had a commercial impact with her debut single, "Candy"; "I Wanna Be With You," the lead-off track and first single, finds her singing a mediocre romantic ballad that, given her age, constitutes an invitation to statutory rape. (A dance remix concludes the album.) Current unknowns International Five, Ashley Ballard, P.Y.T., Thunderbugs, and Cyrena turn in bland pop songs, which doesn't mean they won't be at the top of the charts some time soon; Thunderbugs' "Friends Forever" especially sounds like it could be the anthem for the junior high school class of 2000. Elvis Crespo and Gizelle D'Cole's "Come Baby Come" is the obligatory Latin track, while "If I Was the One," performed by the duo Ruff Endz, is the obligatory Diane Warren ballad. There are also several older licensed tracks, including a couple of Jamiroquai's neo-R&B workouts, most of which wipe the floor with the teen pop dreck. The intention here, of course, is to tap into a number of current trends, and, who knows, maybe that intention will be fulfilled. But it's hard not to see this sampler album of faceless, forgettable music as an example of cynical major-label exploitation that deserves to fail. ~ William Ruhlmann

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