TOTALLY KROSSED OUT
Kris Kross (Ruffhouse/Columbia 48710) Pre-teen rappers are usually portrayed as precocious cuties, pint-sized rhymers who play at rap the way other kids play with toys. But even though both Kris Smith and Kris Kelly are rapping at the tender age of 12, the music Kris Kross makes on "Totally Krossed Out" is surprisingly hardcore. That's not to say these youngsters come off as gangsta wannabe's, as the tough talk of "Can't Stop the Bum Rush" hardly overshadows the sobering message of "Lil' Boys in Da Hood" or "Real Bad Dream." Instead, it's the musical maturity they show that makes them seem dope beyond their years, from the deep groove of "Party" to the infectious, reggae-inflected cadences of "Jump."
DARE TO DREAM
Yanni (Private Music 82096)
Between his fondness for tinkly, easy-listening piano melodies and his embrace of lush, atmospheric synth textures, it's obvious that multi-instrumentalist Yanni has an absolute command of the elevator music vocabulary. But don't write off his new album, "Dare to Dream," as mood music -- unless, that is, you consider sleep a mood. Indeed, the dozen songs collected here are so soporific the album ought to warn listeners against operating heavy machinery while listening. "Dare to Dream"? "Dare to Stay Awake" would be closer to the truth.
Celine Dion (Epic 52473)
Even if all you know about Celine Dion is her duet with Peabo Bryson on "Beauty and the Beast," that's still probably enough to convince you that she's one of the strongest ballad singers in pop music today. Astonishingly, though, that song is merely an average performance by the standards of "Celine Dion," the singer's second American album. Unlike many balladeers, Dion never tries to overpower the listener; she'd rather make her point through inflection and implication. And it's that sense of understatement that adds sizzle to songs like the tender, folk-tinged "If I Were You," the searingly soulful "Show Some Emotion," or the jazzy "Halfway to Heaven."
THE MADMAN'S RETURN
Snap (Arista 18693)
When Snap exploded onto the scene two years ago with the dance-club smash "The Power," what made this German-based combo's sound so exciting was the audacity with which it mixed hip-hop and house -- taking freely enough from both styles to create a sound of its own. That moment of triumph is long passed, however, and the sound Snap offers on its second album, "The Madman's Return," is as pedestrian as it is predictable. Not only do the group's ideas seem tired, but there's no spark to the performances, and that's as true of Soul II Soul rip-offs like "Money" as it is of pro-forma house numbers like "Rhythm Is a Dancer." In fact, the only track that comes even VTC close to the group's early vigor is "Colour of Love," and that's more a function of the mix than the music.