Abdul Accents Vocals on 'Spellbound' : ** 1/2 PAULA ABDUL "Spellbound" Virgin

After selling more than 7 million copies with her 1988 debut album, Abdul is back with a follow-up that tries to answer some lingering questions about just how good a singer she is.

Even ignoring recent charges by a backup singer that her voice was electronically combined with Abdul's on at least two songs on "Forever Your Girl" to give Abdul a fuller sound, it was difficult to tell much about Abdul's vocal skills because of the glossy, dance-pop arrangements and/or multitrack vocal mixes. The consensus was that she was no Mariah Carey.

On several tunes on the new album, it's Abdul minus the gloss and multitracking--and the singer does a creditable job most of the time. Things don't always work out--as on John Hiatt's "Alright Tonight" (produced by Don Was), whose nuances she is unable to capture.

But singing isn't the only measure of an album. Too much of "Spellbound" is forgettable, mid-tempo romantic pop, including most of the numbers written and produced by members of Family Stand (the exception: "Rush, Rush," a loping ballad that's the first single).

Abdul scores no knockout, but she deserves credit. She could have played it safe and done another dance-oriented album that rendered vocals secondary--such as the solid, Prince-designed "U" track here. Instead, she took a chance on a more mature pop album that accents her vocals.

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