Various artists

When a 5-year-old finds a favorite record, the rest of the family has to hear it about 2,000 times a week. Now—at long last!—there is some relief for those adults who want to introduce the youngsters to music but have to resort to nonstop vacuuming in order to drown out Raffi singing "Willoughby Wallabee Woo."

For Our Children, with 20 lullabies and slaphappy songs performed by Sting, Debbie Gibson, Elton John, Paul McCartney, James Taylor and other pop luminaries, may be the first children's record that can withstand endless repetition. The singers picked a batch of sweet, G-rated melodies that will almost appeal equally to adults, babies and preschoolers. But, avoiding the condescending style that pervades so many children's records, this one is also hip and very entertaining.

At a time when kids need a lot of encouragement in order to develop some idealism, Ziggy Marley's bouncy opening song, "Give a Little Love," offers a message about kindness. Little Richard's rappy version of "Itsy Bitsy Spider" gives that old arachnid reason to hop anew. Meryl Streep, perhaps in training for the Iron Woman Entertainment Triathlon, sings the sweet "Gar-tan Mother's Lullaby."

There are a few odd numbers. Paula Abdul should have done a disco romp for kids instead of her shaky rendition of the snoozer "Good Night My Love (Pleasant Dreams)." Bob Dylan, who brings his usual eccentricity to a deadpan "This Old Man," may be above (or beneath) the interest of most prepubescents, and kids may lack the attention span to enjoy Barbra Streisand's slow "A Child Is Born."

Otherwise the album is nearly flawless. All but four tracks were recorded just for this release, from which all record-company profits will go to the Pediatric AIDS Foundation. An awareness of the cause clearly inspired some performances—they radiate warmth and what sounds like genuine love. (Walt Disney)"

Sparks

Being a Sparks fan is a risks proposition. The president of the Kitty Kelley Appreciation Society probably has it easier.

Pop a Sparks tape into your car deck and your passengers will mutiny. Mention to your spouse that you like one or two of the band's songs and divorce papers will be served the next morning.

Maybe it's singer Russell Mael's falsetto. Maybe it's the disco-ized hooks and cartoonish production. Maybe it's the smart-ass lyrics and tongue-in-chic titles ("Angst in My Pants"). Anyhow, Sparks won't win any People's Choice Awards.

Guess what: True Sparks fans don't care. Critics may retch over this eccentric cult band, formed by the Los Angeles-born Mael and his brother Ron, but those who appreciate the pure fun of a good pop song will get years of guilty pleasure from this two-CD retrospective of the group's career.

The Maels started out in the early 1970s, sounding like Queen Lite. They had that band's bombast but none of its heavy-handed pretension. Profile devotes the entire first CD to Sparks' less-interesting '70s output, while the second CD focuses on such 1980s dance-oriented, should-a-been smashes as "Cool Places."

Each of the collection's 40 songs is so blatantly catchy and so deliberately dumb, it's more likely to be appreciated by the Tiger Beat crowd than a Rolling Stone crowd. So be it. Profile is like a Jetsons film festival: nothing socially redeeming, just a lot of catchy kitsch. (Rhino)"

Mike & the Mechanics

The on-again, off-again Mechanics team Mike Rutherford, bass player—guitarist for Genesis, with vocalists Paul Carrack and Paul Young. (That's Paul Young the lesser; not the "Every Time You Go Away" guy but the Sad Cafe alum). Rounding out the combo are drummer Peter Van Hooke and keyboardist Adrian Lee.

Their third outing is another enjoyable sampling of light but sturdy song-craft. The best tracks are Rutherford-Carrack collaborations, including the perky pop-gospel of "Get Up" and the ballad "The Way You Look at Me." Rutherford wrote some fetching tunes with B.A. Robertson as well, including the poignant "A Time and Place."

The group's touch is not unerring. The title song, for instance, is a stuffy sing-along. But the sound is bright and crisp, the melodies, for the most part, infectious. Mike and his musical grease monkeys have their four-cylinder pop engine all tuned up and purring. (Atlantic)"

Larry Boone

Maybe it's because he's a mere Larry in a world of Clints, Garths, Dwights and Randys. Maybe it has something to do with the arcane world of record marketing. In any case, after three solo albums, Boone, 34, is less well known than he ought to be.

On this album, he hits most of the checkpoints frequented by today's tradition-minded but modern male country singers, from the gospel-tinged "Standing in the River" to the self-flagellating "It Wouldn't Kill Me." And he has the right deep voice, the right ability to rock just enough.

Boone also writes—seven of this album's 10 songs have his name on them—and has a way with a metaphor, most notably in "Rock in the Road."

As for the name business, it could be worse. His parents could have been the jokey sort who would have called him Daniel. (Columbia)"

Luther Vandross

For a long time there hasn't been much room for improvement in the singing of Vandross, the virtuoso of soul. So over the last few albums, he has concentrated on pumping up the accompaniment. Too bad.

The album's production, a collaboration between Luther and Marcus Miller, is at times so lavish it pushes the singer out of the spotlight.

The arrangements on, say, "She Doesn't Mind" and "Emotional Love" overshadow Vandross's contributions. These songs create a big splash, but it hardly matters that it's Luther singing them. Curious strategy, that.

Another sign of indulgence is the length of the tracks. Only one song clocks at under four minutes. At least the expansiveness allows the record's all-star chorus, including Cissy Houston and Darlene Love, to air it out.

The star's subtle yet robust delivery is still a marvel. But the voice, material and studio technique balance only on "I'm Gonna Start Today" and "Sometimes It's Only Love." Those moments of equilibrium can't keep this record from keeling over. (Epic)"

>RED HOT & BLUE

THIS 90-MINUTE AIDS FUND-RAISER USES CLIPS OF COLE PORTER to frame vivid renditions of Porter tunes. David Byrne enlists Roy Rogers footage in his "Don't Fence Me In." There are contributions by such feature directors as Jonathan Demme (the Neville Brothers' "In the Still of the Night"), and Jimmy Somerville ("From This Moment On") sings to director Steve Mclean's gay-oriented scenario. None of the 19 segments is dull; many are splendid. (Arista, $19.98)

  • Contributors:
  • Michael Small,
  • Craig Tomashoff,
  • David Hiltbrand,
  • Ralph Novak.