June 26, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

GHETTO SUPERSTAR(THAT IS WHAT YOU ARE);YOU’RE STILL THE ONE;CLOSING TIME;YOU WON’T FORGET ME

Much like the movie world, the summer-singles season traditionally kicks off shortly before the calendar officially declares it’s summer. This time last year, for instance, Shawn Colvin’s “Sunny Came Home” and OMC’s “How Bizarre” were already embedding themselves in our collective brains and playlists, and we had no choice but to surrender.

That scenario makes the current state of Top 40 all the more depressing. Rarely have we headed into sunblock season with such dreary musical accompaniment. We’re going to have to endure Brandy and Monica blandly murmuring “The Boy Is Mine” to each other for the next three months? Or tolerate equally lightweight trifles like the Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” Savage Garden’s “Truly Madly Deeply,” and Xscape’s “The Arms of the One Who Loves You”? (Speaking of the latter, why do so many R&B singers seem to feel that schlock-treatment songwriter-producer Diane Warren is the new queen of soul?) Things are so bleak that New York’s leading Top 40 station continues to play the Fugees’ “Killing Me Softly,” which is all of two years old.

It is possible to turn on the car radio and not fall asleep at the wheel; it just takes some perseverance. With an eye toward the positive, here are a few hopeful signs on this summer’s radio-dial horizon:

>>“GHETTO SUPASTAR (THAT IS WHAT YOU ARE),” Pras Michel featuring Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Mya (Interscope): R&B newcomer Mya has a current hit with “It’s All About Me,” a duet with Dru Hill’s Sisqo that drowns its self-affirmation message in a colorless quiet-storm arrangement. (The song’s most distinctive trait is its recurring click-click, which made me keep thinking my CD player was heading toward a meltdown.) A rising hit from the Bulworth soundtrack, this left-field remake of the Kenny Rogers-Dolly Parton hit “Islands in the Stream” is a far better showcase for Mya; with her buttery rendering of the song’s hooky chorus, she paints herself as the world’s most streetwise, levelheaded groupie. As for the rest of the track, its combination of slinky guitar, scratching, and scratchy ODB growl (or is that now “scratchy Big Baby Jesus growl”?) makes it a dozen times more fun than Bulworth itself. A

>>“YOU’RE STILL THE ONE,” Shania Twain (Mercury): The idea that Twain’s big-budget line-dance rock and hotel-lounge balladry somehow qualify her as a musical mix master is laughable. That said, the moment when she briefly morphs herself into Janet Jackson during the intro of this country crossover ballad is the most subtle work Twain’s ever done. The way she blissfully intones ‘When I first saw you, I saw love/And the first time you touched me, I felt love” over a lazy drumbeat is a better approximation of Janet than the Jackson heard on the slack hit “I Get Lonely”; you can practically see Twain’s wet lips. Alas, the rest of the soapy “You’re Still the One” sounds like Gloria Estefan with a mandolin. Soul Solution’s club remix of the song isn’t bad, though; Twain’s vocal slips into the rhythm with surprising ease. Hmm, maybe she is a burgeoning electronica diva after all. B-

>>“CLOSING TIME,” Semisonic (MCA): This shoe-gazing drinking song has displaced Fastball’s “The Way” from the top of alt-rock radio charts, and good for Semisonic. With his previous band, the late, lamented Minneapolis combo Trip Shakespeare, wide-eyed singer-songwriter Dan Wilson defined the word winsome. “Closing Time” adds the harder, hammier guitars common to modern-rock hits of the last year or so, but they’re not so obnoxious that they smother Wilson’s sense of melody or his voice, which still sounds as if it’s gearing up for a serious round of emotional bruising. Think of “Closing Time” as the anti-“Tubthumping.” B+

>>“You Won’t Forget Me,” La Bouche (RCA): Whether it’s by Ace of Base, Real McCoy, or these disco trekkers, every summer needs its unrelenting, take-no-prisoners dance-pop confection. And while this first missive from La Bouche’s new album, SOS, is no “Beautiful Life” or “Another Night,” it fills its designated role with fierce determination. The song is like a tank storming the sand dunes of your head. Its pumping, rock-this-party chorus—”Wherever you’re going, wherever you’ll be/ You won’t forget me”—is both a threat and a promise, and the single delivers on both. B+

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