Adams boasts a beat, but ballads hit the right notes


Bryan Adams (A&M; 31454 0157) What does it say about Bryan Adams that his best songs have all been raucous, guitar-driven rockers, while his biggest hits have all been sappy, sentimental ballads? That he may seem a tough guy on the outside, but deep down he's just an old softie? Maybe, but the answer suggested by his greatest hits collection, "So Far So Good" is a little simpler: He's just not rough enough to be a convincing rock and roller. No matter how much Keith Richards-style guitar he pumps into "The Summer of '69" and "It's Only Love," his voice lacks the sly, Jaggeresque snarl that would make the music seem dangerous. But give him an achingly slow song like "Heaven" or "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You," and Adams' rough edges come across like careworn sincerity.



Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (MCA 10813)


The difference between a good song and a great one is that a good song merely makes you want to hear it again, while a great one sounds just as exciting each and every time through. For proof, just scan through the contents of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' "Greatest Hits." Even though there's much to admire about the good songs here -- the Byrdsian guitar on "Listen to Her Heart," the swirling organ and desperate chorus of "Refugee" -- the great ones are still dazzling in their imagination and resilience. As such, it hardly matters how many times you've thrilled to the surging guitars of "The Waiting" or been swept away by the lazy rhythms of "Free Fallin' " -- the magic remains the same.


Reba McEntire (MCA 10906)

In many ways, Reba McEntire is a perfect example of the pop-savvy modern country star. Her songs are slick and radio-friendly, and her band is as likely to use synthesizers as pedal steel guitar. But as her "Greatest Hits Volume Two" makes plain, beneath that urbane veneer lies a sound that's pure country, even if it doesn't always hew to tradition. That's how she can carry off a story-song as corny and melodramatic as "Fancy," or fill "The Greatest Man I Never Knew" with heart-felt emotion without ever turning maudlin. And though her duet with Linda Davis on "Does He Love You" occasionally flirts with

Hollywood-style vocal overkill, the quiver in her voice on the chorus ought to be enough to remind any listener what city McEntire calls home. It may be true that, groove-wise, Roger Troutman is a one-trick pony, but oh! what a trick. Troutman's trademark sound -- choked guitar, rubbery bass and robotic, vocoder vocals -- was a stunner from the first notes of Zapp's "More Bounce to the Ounce," and he kept it in full-effect through later hits (by then credited to Roger) like "So Ruff, So Tuff" and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." And though the only real difference between the whole of Zapp and Roger's "All the Greatest Hits" and the "Mega Medley" that ends the album is length, that shouldn't keep you from enjoying every moment of this 17-song collection.