Danity Kane and Day 26

Puff protégés preen preciously

P. Diddy, the salesman extraordinaire, Monsieur Band Pimp himself, twice sought futilely to create the perfect pop cluster via his bizarre reality-TV shows: Dream and Da Band weren't it. Third and fourth time's the charm. Crafty as he is, Diddy placed his platinum-selling girl quintet Danity Kane (a what?) in the same house with their newly minted, opposite-sex, equally badly named counterparts Day 26 (when?) to record albums simultaneously. Adding to their Svengali's cunning, the resulting sophomore and debut discs (respectively) dropped a week apart. Always! Be! Marketing!

Cue Danity's Welcome to the Dollhouse intro, Puffy's suave voice cutting through twinkling keys: "Once upon a time, there were five little girls . . ." But these gals are older, more cohesive, and more enchanting than before, plus Maxim-approved. Sultry whisper-raps on the Missy Elliott–assisted "Bad Girl" offer a choice of seductive phrases: "I can be your addiction if you wanna get hooked on me" or the Optimus Prime–gone-frisky chant, "When the red light comes on/I transform!" Lead single "Damaged" is all st-st-stutter singing and Pussycat coos, while swagger dominates the Danja-crafted "Pretty Boy" and "Strip Tease," wherein DK make like Nelly Furtado in "Give It to Me." This excellence regrettably doesn't exonerate lines like "You make me hotter than Jamaica." The made-for-Idol ballads "Poetry" and "Is Anybody Listening" impress, but Danity's better at cock-teasing over mid-tempo-to-jumpy rhythms. Curiously strong, theirs is more Altoids than bubble-gum pop.

Cruising in the r&b lane, Day 26, when they do slow it down, slow it down nicely. "I know the last time, you said it was the last time," the quintet sings, "but baby all I need is one more last time." For "What It Feels Like" or the Runners-produced "Come In," a simple recurring croon ("Come in, come in, my door's open") is beautiful enough. It's the 112 way. But contrived catchy numbers ("I'm the Reason," "In My Bed") leave the vocals sounding more crowded than harmonized. Their tones aren't quite distinguishable, unlike the ladies'—try telling Brian from Que from Willie from the other two. Here's something both groups have in common: Both are leaderless. Puff's enough.

 
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