R.E.M. Recovers as Boy George Goes Dancing : *** 1/2 BOY GEORGE "The Martyr Mantras" Virgin

Ignore the cover art, which hints of Eastern mysticism and spiritualism. This is primarily a dance album--featuring elements of '70s soul, late-'70s disco and blazing, up-to-the-minute house music. Teeming with the kind of relentless, gently escalating grooves that dancers love, it's one of the best dance albums to come out in the past few years.

This is new turf for Boy George, whose career slipped after the mid '80s due to substance abuse and lack of exceptional albums. His voice still falls somewhere between Smokey Robinson and Curtis Mayfield, but the English singer has smartly abandoned traditional pop-soul, a genre that, for him, had dried up.

Here he concentrates on extended, danceable tracks, accenting hypnotic, supercharged repetition. The highlight is the mesmerizing "After the Love," the second half of which is propelled by blistering conga drumming.

Rather than typical dance-music fluff, Boy George croons literate lyrics that push social messages ("Generations of Love") and lament the disillusionment of broken romances ("Love's Gonna Let U Down"). The contrast between the morose themes and the sunny instrumentals adds an appealing, jarring edge to many of the tracks. Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to five stars (a classic).

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