By Allison Stewart
Disney princesses seem to come along every 15 minutes, but few of them charm like Selena Gomez, the serene and adorable star of the Disney Channel's "Wizards of Waverly Place," who resembles a pint-size Snow White ordered out of a Delia's catalog.
"A Year Without Rain," the 18-year-old's second release with her backing band, the Scene, cleaves to a familiar Disney formula: Match the girl of the moment to the pop craze of six months ago. Before she went rogue, Miley Cyrus was a Britney/Avril pop avatar. Demi Lovato went the "authentic" John Mayer singer-songwriter route. On "Rain," Gomez is positioned as a younger, more chaste incarnation of Katy Perry, with the dead-inside electro-pop tracks to prove it.
"Rain" clatters from over-processed dance-pop song to over-produced ballad and back. It's heavy on glitched-out vocals and bubble gum, dance floor workouts, light on melody and memorable hooks. Perry can't save the awkward "Rock God" (which she co-wrote and sings on), but at least it's an improvement over the title track, the sort of exercise in teenage co-dependence ("I need you by my side/Don't know how I'll survive") that should be long extinct.
Even at its worst, "Rain" is a marked improvement over Gomez's attitude-heavy debut, "Kiss and Tell," although it's otherwise the most synthetic of synth-pop discs. Gomez makes the best of it, but she spends most of the disc trying to dig herself out from under a mountain of vocal effects so obliterating, it's impossible to tell whether "Rain" squanders her talents or exaggerates them.
Recommended tracks: "Rock God," "Round & Round"