January 27, 2003 12:00 PM

Laura Pausini (Atlantic)

International star Laura Pausini, who has sold 20 million albums worldwide, is Italy’s answer to Celine Dion. On her English-language debut album, the singer, who has previously released five discs in Italian (four of which were rerecorded in Spanish), delivers the same mix of VH1-ready adult-contemporary ballads, mid-tempo numbers and dance tracks that we’ve come to expect from Dion. Although Pausini doesn’t possess quite as big a voice as Dion (few do), she still has respectable pop pipes, which she puts to good use over a solid if unspectacular set of 12 tracks. Although her enunciation is a bit stilted at times, Pausini generally seems comfortable singing in English, even handling the rapid-fire lyrics of the lite-R&B cut “I Do to Be.” She’s best, though, on the feel-good first single, “Surrender,” a Eurodance number that successfully mines Cher’s “Believe” territory.

BOTTOM LINE: A welcome import

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