Pop's Don Wan takes on a tougher image, portraying himself on the jacket of this LP (his 21st) as a boxer. Most of the punches, however, are thrown against the shadows of his past: Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, the Man Who Fell to Earth and bland David Jones (his given name). The pose seems to be that of a middleweight artiste. Bowie feints at lyrical literacy as he weaves through these eight tunes, but there is no sense of a hungry aspirant. He does flaunt a musical version of Ali's rope-a-dope, a kind of lift-a-riff, with danceable rhythms supplied by co-producer Nile Rodgers, also co-funkmeister of the ensemble Chic. There's nothing particularly new about this strategy: Bowie discovered back in the mid-'70s with Young Americans that while artsy experimentation may win him critical plaudits, it's punchy dance tunes that deliver the commercial knockout. In fact he sometimes favors the rhythm so much that his lyrics sink to embarrassing levels, such as with Ricochet, where he rhymes "March of Dimes" with "these are the crimes." The music, at least, is slick, with stirring arrangements for such successful numbers as China Girl (written by Bowie with his comrade Iggy Pop), the title cut and a muscular remake of Cat People (Putting Out Fire), composed for the flimsy feline flick. Bowie promises to be a main event this year, with a concert tour in addition to the release of three movies: The Hunger, Yellowbeard and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. There's no question that he's a star, but he has never really become a musical champ.