ALBUM REVIEW : *** MORRISSEY, "Vauxhall and I"; Sire/Reprise

When Morrissey surfaced with the Smiths in the early '80s, his tales of alienation and crushed idealism made him an underdog hero for legions of sensitive and suppressed fans. On his fifth solo album, the Englishman still delivers ironic romanticism and subtle humor, but on more accessible terms than in the past.

After experimenting with rockabilly tunes on his last album, Morrissey returns to his original love for pretty pop ballads, catchy hooks and substantial melodies. His vocals gracefully climb from sad, defeated whispers to rich, hope-filled harmonies as he jokes about his own misery and analyzes why he's bashed by the fickle British music press.

Morrissey's poetic, frank lyrics and cultured, despairing croons seem less inhibited than in his previous solo works. With its more fluid music, "Vauxhall" may prove compelling enough to reach beyond his cult-fan base, but it's not obvious enough to compete in the Whitney-ruled mainstream.

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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