** 1/2 SLAUGHTER; "The Wild Life" Chrysalis

Slaughter usually gets slaughtered by critics, who charge that the band's pop-metal music is frivolous junk. It has a point--sort of. Frivolous it may be, but junk it isn't.

This unbridled frivolity is the essence of Slaughter's appeal to young metalheads. Its message is that life can be joyous when you approach it blithely, with a let's-party attitude. And romance? No problem, says Slaughter, whose blueprint for relationships is straight out of the old Archie comics.

Like the best pop-metal bands, such as Def Leppard and Warrant, this quartet--headed by singer Mark Slaughter and bassist Dana Strum--peddles a brand of exuberance that rarely rings false. Slaughter scores with its audience because for the most part its playfulness seems genuine.

Slaughter's sole misstep is "Times They Change," where the band puts the party on hold, dons its U2 hat and dabbles in social consciousness. Well, the hat doesn't fit. When this band tries to get insightful it's in way over its head.

This second album, which isn't much different from Slaughter's smash hit debut, "Stick It to Ya," works best when it sticks to its strength--tantalizing escapism.

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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