Less than the sum of its parts …

Former m-flo singer Lisa has a lot to learn from former 10,000 Maniacs singer Natalie Merchant.

Although Merchant possesses a compelling voice, 10,000 Maniacs itself was no slouch when it came to producing music. The passing of guitarist Rob Buck, in fact, marks a terrible loss for rock music in general.

Merchant’s solo career rode the wave of alternative rock’s popularity, but critically, her own writing turned out to be limp if not downright dreary.

What does any of this have to do with a biligual R&B singer in Japan?

The charismatic Lisa possesses a rare combination of marketable skills — she has a tremendous voice and she can switch between English and Japanese with ease.

Her vocal power combined with m-flo’s musical muscle produced some of the most original mainstream pop music made anywhere.

So when Lisa announced her departure from m-flo in 2002, music fans assumed m-flo was over. If anything, it’s vice versa — does Lisa have what it takes to match the musicianship of her former colleagues?

Juicy Music, Lisa’s solo debut album, only partly answers the question.

There’s definitely some potential. The jittery beats on “Superstar” harken back to her days with m-flo. “Natural Color” possesses a catchy melody that slowly ingrains itself into a listener’s consciousness.

Even the ridiculous “The Shwing” can be forgiven for its lack of substance.

The second half of Juicy Music, however, gets mired in overwrough balladry. “I Promise” and “Ienakutemo” are so alike in temperament, it’s easy to think the two songs are actually one, overly long 9-minute track.

“Let me cry” attempts to pass itself off as a gospel track, but it meanders. “Babylon no Kiseki”, which was perhaps Lisa’s weakest pre-release single, sounds genius by comparrison.

Lisa’s still incredible voice does prevent many of these missteps from being absolute disasters, but on the whole, the magic she produced as a member of m-flo is definitely missing.

Much like how Natalie Merchant’s luster got dulled without 10,000 Maniacs to give her a boost.

It doesn’t help either that m-flo has returned with its own single — “Reeewind” featuring Crystal Kay demonstrates Taku and Verbal are doing just fine.

Juicy Music is a passable debut, but it pales in comparrison to Lisa’s previous work.