"GIVE ME THE REASON." Luther Vandross. Epic.

One of pop music's big mysteries in recent years is why Luther Vandross hasn't become a huge crossover star. His albums consistently sell a million, but that is mostly due to black radio and fan support. After all this time, Vandross has yet to land a Top 20 pop hit.

It's certainly not for lack of quality. Vandross has made some of the classiest black pop of the past five years. The great thing about Vandross' music is that it features both heartfelt lyrics and a terrific dance beat.

The best cuts on this, Vandross' fifth album, have the party-minded spirit and jazz-accented sophistication of such Quincy Jones productions as George Benson's "Give Me the Night" and his own "Ai No Corrida." The most irresistible song on the album, "I Gave It Up (When I Fell in Love)," even makes a playful, self-mocking reference to Vandross' 1982 hit, "Bad Boy."

The album's title song, which was featured in the film "Ruthless People," is also engaging, and "Stop to Love" is a sizzling celebration. But the ballads are generally lackluster, which is ironic, since Vandross has a reputation as one of pop's leading romantics. "There's Nothing Better Than Love," a duet with actor Gregory Hines, is pretty but unmemorable. The same is true of "Because It's Really Love," another ultra-romantic but flaccid ballad.

The best ballad on the album is a poignant remake of Dionne Warwick's "Anyone Who Had a Heart," written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. But as good as the song is, Vandross is simply repeating himself. He already paid homage to this team on his debut album, when he did a devastating version of a superior song, "A House Is Not a Home."

The sleek assurance of the uptempo cuts easily offsets the mediocrity--or redundancy--in the ballads, but Vandross should address that weakness. Now if pop radio will just give "I Gave It Up" a fair shake, Vandross can take his rightful place alongside Lionel Richie and Kool & the Gang as one of the mainstays of pop radio.

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