BARRY MANILOW "Barry Manilow." Arista *** : POP STARS ***** Great Balls of Fire **** Knockin' On Heaven's Door *** Good Vibrations ** Maybe Baby * Ain't That a Shame

On his first pop-oriented album in four years, Manilow has largely dispensed with the Big Finish--the booming, crashing climax that was long his trademark. The Big Finish contributed to Manilow's long string of hits in the '70s, but also hastened his decline in the '80s as many fans tired of the tightly constructed formula. The best songs on Manilow's new album, including the tender ballads "Keep Each Other Warm" and "Some Good Things Never Last," are looser and more fluid. The increased subtlety and restraint give the album a more contemporary sensibility. The quality of the songs--Manilow had a hand in writing only two--doesn't compare with his best '70s work, but the sound rethinking of his approach is encouraging.

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