April 02, 2001 12:00 PM

Lionel Richie (Island/Def Jam)

If Michael Jackson was the King of Pop in the ’80s, then his heir was Lionel Richie. After leaving the popular R&B group the Commodores in 1981, the crooner produced a string of No. 1 solo hits, won 1985’s album of the year Grammy for his multi-platinum disc Can’t Slow Down and, with Jackson, co-wrote the decade’s famine-relief anthem “We Are the World.”

After a very slow period, Richie is hoping to get back in the money with Renaissance. He attempts to update his sound, with mixed results, by adding Latin-pop flourishes on such up-tempo tracks as “Cinderella” and even bringing in producer of the moment Rodney Jerkins (Destiny’s Child) for the disappointing funk outing “Tonight.” But Richie still has a way with a good old-fashioned ballad, as he displays on “Tender Heart,” “How Long” and “Piece of My Heart.” His down-home delivery of the folksy “It May Be the Water” is timeless.

Bottom Line: A mini-revival

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