Considering the series of unfortunate events that have kept Jennifer Lopez in the public eye in recent years -- among them Bennifer, ''Gigli," and her third marriage in eight years -- who can blame the struggling starlet for naming her new album ''Rebirth," or for wanting to dream up a whole new earthly incarnation? No one wants to be famous for getting (or not getting) married, starring in dreadful films, and demanding 10 dressing rooms for a 100-person entourage while visiting Top of the Pops in England to perform ''Jenny From the Block," a song about her humble nature.
Unless the artist's grasp of high farce is stronger than appearances suggest, the J.Lo show was indeed in need of some serious rejiggering.
Sony Music spared no expense on Lopez's transfiguration, which arrives in stores today. Top-flight hirelings Rodney Jerkins and Timbaland, Usher and Rich Harrison, Big Boi and Fabolous, and co-executive producer Cory Rooney ply their finest songwriting and most ingenious studio wares.
''Get Right," from the same folks who brought you Beyonce's ''Crazy in Love," is a brilliantly surgical party anthem built around a squawking saxophone line from Maceo & the Macks' sample of James Brown's ''Soul Power '74"; it's a high-wattage entry in the nascent sampled samples era.
Ethereal flutes and Spanish guitars infuse ''Step Into My World" with exotic essences. Funk-flecked ''Cherry Pie" pays tribute to vintage Prince. ''Still Around" couldn't be sweeter. The songs and the sounds are, for the most part, terrific. The problem is the singer.
Never before in the history of pop pinups -- and that includes such vocally-challenged bombshells as Janet Jackson and Britney Spears -- has a woman who looks so luscious sounded so unattractive. This isn't about wobbly pitch or thin tone. Lopez is something far worse: a blank. Her voice is barren, vacant, devoid of either sincerity or sex. Lopez is as persuasive as a seductress on ''Step Into My World" as she was as a wedding planner.
Even ''(Can't Believe) This is Me," the disc's most emotional and horrible song, penned by Lopez and her latest husband, Marc Anthony, evokes nothing more than a few yelps from the wounded protagonist, who ruminates on a romantic loss not with a 35-year-old woman's hard-won wisdom but with a self-serving whine: ''I'm lost in a dream/between what is and what seems/How could you do this to me?"
Mistakes have been made. Public profiles have suffered. Lopez, however, isn't experiencing a creative rebirth; that would involve folk music or primal-scream therapy or some semblance of revelation and humanity, and this album contains nothing of the sort.
She's orchestrating a resurrection -- of thick black eyeliner, of marital bliss, of duets with rappers (here it's Fat Joe), of the midtempo mix of infectious pop and retro-R&B from 2002's ''This is Me . . . Then."
Lopez might have titled this one ''This is Me . . . Again." Hers is not an evolving skill set, merely an endlessly repackageable one. It's no crime to be lovely and limited -- if only Jennifer Lopez would stop pretending to be anything else.