Polydor - 2003- 47 minutes

It was perhaps a little difficult to guess where Ms Stevens, formerly an aesthetically pleasing cog in the Simon Fuller manufactured S Club 7, would take her solo career once the cheery teeny-boppers finally called it a day this summer.

Would she cast aside the bright, care-free bubble-gum pop that had propelled her into the international consciousness for a more credible, adventurous and adult sound - or would she stay true to the faithful band of S Club fans and play it safe with a similar brand of chart-friendly pop?

That Stevens was the first of the disbanded S Clubbers to go it alone was no surprise given her vast appeal to a myriad of audiences. However, what is surprising is the diversity, charm and relative depth of her first solo offering, the aptly named 'Funky Dory', which has been eagerly anticipated by the fickle British music industry who crave a viable home grown challenger to Beyoncé, Britney and Christina.

They were never likely to find a worthy candidate from Geri Halliwell, Victoria Beckham et al, but on this evidence the future for Stevens looks bright. From the first track, her debut No 1 single 'Sweet Dreams My LA Ex', we are immediately drawn into an uplifting, rhythmical vibe that is carried through the title track, and permeates much of what is a decent, if somewhat safe and predictable, debut.

Stevens would never have intended to break new musical ground, but with Cathy Dennis in tow on the writing front, Funky Dory throws up some interesting nuggets that will ensure 'Sweet Dreams...' is not her only success. The airy and melodic 'Breathe In Breathe Out' is one such number, while the album's only ballad, 'Heaven Has To Wait', is also a standout track.

The verses of 'Blue Afternoon' have sprinklings of Sade about them - not such a bad thing - while 'I Got The Money' is slowed down to give it a Stateside feel that Stevens manages to pull off. 'Solid' will also be a grower in the style of 'Sweet Dreams...', while the maturity and style of 'Silk' reflects the justified confidence that Stevens has embraced since S Club's break-up. All this in spite of her well-documented relationship problems with fiancé Jeremy Edwards but, with that reported to be back on track, it seems the only way is up for Stevens.

Shane Murray

Tracklisting: Sweet Dreams My LA Ex - Funky Dory - Fools - Breathe In Breathe Out - Glide - Heaven Has To Wait - Blue Afternoon - I Got The Money - Little Secret - Solid - Silk - Sweet Dreams My LA Ex (Bimbo Jones Club Mix)