Brooks's new album kicks off with "The Old Stuff," a reflective-then-raucous remembrance of the days when the singer and his band were starting out. Unfortunately the production, complete with audience cheers, quickly goes over the top and robs the performance of some of its boisterous bounce and twang. Still, Brooks could do worse than pattern his latest release on earlier successes. The mix of cowboy anthems, sentimental love songs and such inspirational ballads as "The Change," a song that concerns the need for strong morals and personal resolve, won't win him any prizes for daring or originality, but it still holds up surprisingly well and helps compensate for some of his more spirited misadventures. 8421MIKE JOYCE
R. Kelly has always had a hint of gospel in his sexy soul singing and that influence has become a major ingredient on his latest release, which plays down the frank sex talk, pumps up the romantic crooning and opens and closes with hymns. The singer hasn't abandoned sex; he's simply become a bit smoother. The album is devoted to slow, sensual come-ons in which Kelly sings in an intimate whisper how he either wants to get to know the woman he's addressing or else make up for whatever wrong he's done. If R. Kelly underwhelms it's because Kelly has so much trouble shifting gears. Too many songs are like the single "You Remind Me of Something," all simmering foreplay with no payoff. 8419 GEOFFREY HIMES
Gifted R&B artist Babyface wrote or co-wrote 15 and produced all 16 of the songs on this soundtrack album, using every one to explore the theme of the film, which is based on Terry McMillan's best-selling novel about four women who support each other as they cope with their can't-live-with-'em, can't-live-without-'em problems with men. Whitney Houston plays one of the women, and for the first single, Babyface borrows McMillan's title metaphor and compares the joys and despairs of new love to holding one's breath; sooner or later, he suggests, you have to "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)." Sounding like someone who has just emptied her lungs after holding her breath a long time, Houston brings a surprisingly mature, world-weary tone to the song. As good as Houston's contributions are, the album's peak moment belongs to Aretha Franklin, who makes us hear in every note what the title of "It Hurts Like Hell" is talking about. Not only has Babyface created a fascinating song suite, he has produced the best middle-of-the-road- pop, adult-contemporary album of the year. 8420 GEOFFREY HIMES
Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.