May 20, 1991 12:00 PM

Tanita Tikaram

At her best, Tikaram exudes an air of striking maturity for a 21-year-old. Starting with her Dietrich-meets—Joan Armatrading vocal delivery, the German-born singer (of Fijian-Malaysian descent) shades her songs with dark, evocative tones and lets the listener try to derive their private meaning out of her lyrics. But over the course of 45 minutes or so, her deeply earnest and ponderous approach can start to sound self-important, and you begin to wonder if she’s having any fun at all. So her soulful third album may sound best taken in small doses.

Tikaram must have dipped into her Van Morrison collection for inspiration. She adopts Van the Man’s crisp horn sound on a few tracks and keeps the arrangements simple and taut on such songs as “This Story in Me.” The cut “Only the Ones We Love” starts off on a lush mournful note, then Tikaram turns the moody composition into a pop song, à la Sinéad O’Connor.

Tikaram is on shakier ground when she tries her hand at light jazz on the Rickie Lee Jones—ish “Hot Pork Sandwiches.” She also overuses the brass supplied by the studio group the Section.

So give Tikaram a couple more years. If her young adult angst eases over time, maybe she’ll loosen up. (Reprise)

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