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Michael Bolton's 'safe' success Critic not among his many fans


Michael Bolton's hair has been compared to Shredded Wheat and his singing style to that of a man held fast in the grip of a newly acquired hernia.

Mr. Bolton gets beaten up for his penchant for "safe" songs, too, an array of material that, if you believe critics, falls somewhere on the conservative side of Jerry Vale.

One review of his new album, "Timeless (The Classics)," featuring Bolton versions of "To Love Somebody," "You Send Me," "Since I Fell For You" and "Yesterday," among others, sneered that it amounted to " 'The Big Chill' soundtrack from hell."

If the 38-year-old singer-songwriter was any more middle of the road, scoffed Newsweek, "He'd have a white line down his forehead."

Ouch. For a guy who admits to being a little too sensitive, this sort of thing smarts.

Mr. Bolton -- who has an NBC special, "This is Michael Bolton," tonight (10 o'clock, Channel 2) -- is puzzled. He wonders why they are out to get him. After all, he's such a nice guy. Talented, too. Just ask him.

A while back in a Los Angeles hotel room, I listened to Mr. Bolton talk about and defend himself for an hour or so. He came on so strong that even if you were inclined to cut him some slack, he has a way of planting himself in the bull's eye then wondering why everybody takes shots at him.

Consider Mr. Bolton at this year's Grammy awards ceremony, where he'd won in the Best Pop Vocal Male category, his second Grammy.

After getting the award on camera Mr. Bolton went to the backstage interview room. There, during the post-award interview, Mr. Bolton was asked whether criticism bothers him. His reply: "It does bother me, because you take a bunch of no-talent chimpanzees and you give them a bucket of paint they'll destroy any Rembrandt or van Gogh around. The critics that are insensitive and rude can kiss my . . ."

With that, he walked out.

Looking back, Mr. Bolton doesn't regret a syllable of that pungent response because any "artist who sells millions and millions of records consistently is offensive" to a lot of critics. He figures to hell with them because "I have no intention of changing what I do, and sacrificing what I love to do, and what my millions of fans have expressed that they appreciate from me."

Mr. Bolton's fans may see a slim, charming fellow with weird hair -- and lots of it -- who works hard on stage to sing passionate versions of ballads and old soul favorites, but his critics see a man who doesn't sing as much as explode, someone who lacks nuance, the way an atom bomb lacks selectivity.

Tonight's guided tour through the life of Michael Bolton could be dismissed as a vanity production, except there's obviously a lot of people who don't mind.

Mr. Bolton does everything from record with a 40-piece orchestra to gaze pensively out the window of his old grade school in New Haven, Conn. It's definitely an up-close-and-personal endeavor.

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