Times Staff Writer

Rumor had it that Boy George's first solo album would deal with his bout with heroin addiction, but fortunately, the young English singer had the sense not to mix his dirty laundry with his music on "Sold." Except for a clunker here and there, the LP, produced by Stewart Levine, is appealing enough to put a toned-down, straightened-up Boy George back on top.

Working without the Culture Club band, whose members were his writing partners, George proves himself capable of coming up with solid material on his own. It's a safe album of romantic pop that offers nothing particularly adventurous, but then George was never an innovator--in music anyway. His real genius was in creating a flashy image.

While still in his early 20s, George rocketed to stardom in 1983. Pop fans swooned over well-crafted songs like "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" and "Karma Chameleon," but it was his hodge-podge look--equal parts drag queen/geisha girl/bag lady--that really intrigued people. But overexposure, a shoddy 1984 album ("Waking Up With the House on Fire") and a series of weak concert performances made him appear to be a has-been by 1985. George has commented that depression about his failing career drove him to the heroin habit that he managed to kick last year as part of a campaign to resurrect his life and career.

"Sold" is basically a collection of lightweight pop, but such confections, when properly done, have enormous appeal. Some of the songs on his new album, notably "Little Ghost" and "Next Time," are on par with the best material from this Culture Club days.

As a vocalist George has always been a bargain-basement Smokey Robinson, but he makes a valiant attempt to explore his potential as a singer this time out, though the results are sometimes strange. On a pop-soul burner titled "Just Ain't Enough," he employs a bleating vibrato that brings Donald Duck to mind. Yet, on the pretty ballad "To Be Reborn," he's the flawless sweet soul crooner.

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