Albums reviewed by Times critics, with recordings of special merit starred. THE BLASTERS, "Hard Line," Slash/Warner Bros. A finely crafted, deeply affecting blend of classic American rock and clear-eyed observation of working-class alienation. The arrangements are tighter and more tailored than on the Blasters' last LP, giving the record far more accessibility (Robert Hilburn).
BRONSKI BEAT, "Age of Consent," MCA. This London trio delivers the most militant gay lyrics since the Tom Robinson Band. The group takes two musical approaches: brisk, electric dance-pop and the moody, free-form vamping that eventually bogs things down. The unrelenting falsetto also wears thin (Richard Cromelin).
PHIL COLLINS, "No Jacket Required," Atlantic. Collins' recipe of tense vocals spiced with saucy horns and splashy electro-jitterbugging synthesizers often leaves little room for real feeling to squeeze through. When he slows down and lets his smoldering moodiness take over, the effect is magical (Lori E. Pike).
THE FIRM, "The Firm," Atlantic. Jimmy Page and Paul Rodgers acquit themselves with more spirit than some of their aging pals, but Page's guitar playing is derivative and singer Rodgers strains for effect more than you'd like. Disturbing evidence that these two talents have gone soft for good (Terry Atkinson).
JOHN FOGERTY, "Centerfield," Warner Bros. Though "Old Man Down the Road" sounds almost identical to early Creedence records, the other tracks update the style with such contemporary touches as drum synthesizers. More than Presley and the other early greats of rock were able to do, Fogerty has recaptured the purity and vision of his peak days (Robert Hilburn).
FOREIGNER, "Agent Provocateur," Atlantic. It's a pity that the material isn't quite up to the execution. Some of the blusters are fiery yet seem too adolescent coming from such mature rockers. And the love songs are mawkishly woebegone. But the hooks are here, and Foreigner survives--a savvy agent of arena-rock craftsmanship and pop modulation (Matt Damsker).
FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD, "Welcome to the Pleasuredome," Island. Producer Trevor Horn has found an aural counterpart for the group's rhetorical excesses in a garish, rousing sonic overkill. There's so much production that the LP doesn't answer all the questions about the group. But its melange of revolutionary politics, mystical love and sacramental sexuality challenges the complacency of today's trendy pop (Richard Cromelin).
CHRIS ISAAK, "Silvertone," Warner Bros. Isaak's sound updates Elvis Presley's moody, pouting sensuality, and his eerie debut is a collection of small pop gems. Like a modern-day Roy Orbison or Marty Robbins, Isaak captures the classic lonely heart ache and desperate fatalism of teen romance (Craig Lee).
MICK JAGGER, "She's the Boss," Columbia. It's not like the dude who's fronted the Rolling Stones for the past 20-odd years couldn't have fit these tunes on one of the group's LPs, 'cause he already has, although under other titles. The ballad ("Hard Woman") is a song in which you can't get to the emotional content through the mannerisms, which pretty much sums up this product, er, album (Don Waller).
LOS LOBOS, "How Will the Wolf Survive?," Slash/Warner Bros. The sound of a small-time dance hall on a Saturday night, the band playing a little bit of everything: razor-fight blues, swinging country shuffles, jambalaya bayou boogies and a couple of traditional Mexican tunes for the old folks. Add a beautiful country-soul ballad and a grooving "I Got Loaded" and you have a record that's hot, sweet and cool like jalapeno ice cream (Don Waller).
MADONNA, "Like a Virgin," Warner Bros. Madonna's bleating vibrato sometimes makes her sound like a sheep in pain, and her vocals also have an annoying little-girl quality. On the hard-driving dance tunes you're swept away by the music, and it really doesn't matter who's singing, but someone with such a flimsy voice shouldn't be singing a sensitive ballad like "Love Don't Live Here Anymore." Madonna should stick to disco (Dennis Hunt).
ROCKWELL, "Captured," Motown. Last year's debut album was filled with oddball pleasures. Here Rockwell tries to get by on his own talents. That's tough going, because without gimmicks and a razor-sharp concept, Rockwell has little to fall back on. He's not a distinctive vocalist, and at his worst he strains for hipness (Connie Johnson).
DAVID LEE ROTH, "Crazy From the Heat," Warner Bros. On this four-song EP, Van Halen singer Roth attempts to turn himself into that mythical beast, the all-around family entertainer. The result is surprising, and something like a platypus--absurd, but natural. Kinda like life (Don Waller).
RUN-D.M.C., "King of Rock," Profile. Joseph Simmons and Daryll McDaniels are the Paul Bunyans of modern urban culture. No one in rap has snappier vocals, no toasters boast with a craftier use of words, and no rappers' humor is funnier. In Texas there's a saying: "If you're as good as you say you are, it ain't bragging." Run-D.M.C. ain't bragging (Terry Atkinson).
SADE, "Diamond Life," Portrait. Like Boy George, Sade knows how to clamp personal style onto recycled R&B; idioms and make it all look invitingly new. Despite her glamour-girl image, there's an earthy substance to some of the cuts--not much substance, but enough to draw you back for another listen (Connie Johnson).
THE SMITHS, "Meat Is Murder," Warner Bros. An erratic but challenging second album from one of England's great pop hopes. The sound is simple and evocative, and the problem is vocalist Morrisey's sing-song warble. The Smiths are capable of great, visionary pop. When Morrisey expands beyond his affectations the band might finally live up to his reputation (Craig Lee).
RICHARD THOMPSON, "Across a Crowded Room," PolyGram. The mood is not always so dark and indulgent as the disquieting centerpiece, "Love in a Faithless Country." Thompson almost completely belies his Fairport Convention roots with a trunkload of gritty rockers, and his pet Celticisms no more stand out or inhibit the spirit than do, say, Los Lobos' Mexican influences in their brand of rock (Chris Willman).
TUPELO CHAIN SEX, "Spot the Difference," Selma. The eccentric L.A. combo combines revolutionary politics with revolutionary sounds. The mix-and-match cross-cultural approach borders on anarchy; what's surprising is how cohesively the group puts its jagged musical jigsaw pieces together. It's weird, but it works (Craig Lee).
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, "V.U.," Verve/PolyGram. This is the long-lost "fourth" Velvet Underground album that stayed unreleased for 15 years, presumably because it was ahead of its time. It still is. All the mystery, tension and stark beauty that was the Velvet Underground remain inviolate and in violet (Don Waller).