ROCK/POP

NEIL DIAMOND ``Headed For the Future'' (Columbia C 40368) -- If Diamond's recent television special didn't offend you, this album probably won't either. The lavish production arrangements swaddle these vain emotions in protective varnish, and the synthesizer veneer is guaranteed not to smudge. But ``Headed For the Future'' is hollow cheerleader fodder, and even in the collaborations with Burt Bacharach and Carole-Bayer Sager, Diamond's relaxed approach comes across as affected. Stevie Wonder's guest appearance on ``Lost in Hollywood'' sounds more like a favor than an inspired duet. BILLY OCEAN ``Love Zone'' (Jive/Arista JL8-8409) -- New producers Barry Eastmond and Wayne Brathwaite run Ocean through more ballads than dance numbers to highlight his sincerity, and the result is that upbeat tracks ``Bittersweet'' and ``Showdown'' don't provide ample contrast to all the crooning. Still, Ocean is sensitive even though controlled. Although calculated pieces like ``There'll Be Sad Songs'' aren't quite irrepressible spiritual outpourings, the effect isn't disappointing. Synthesizer textures dominate. -- T. R. JOE JACKSON ``Big World'' (A&M SP-06021) -- ``Right and Wrong'' may be the radio song of the summer, the best hook Jackson has written since ``Is She Really Going Out With Him?'' He's finely turned his better punk instincts into a catchy political world view and is most often successful. Recorded live (without applause before an audience) in a studio setting, the performances are impressive, the mood immediate. These tightly wadded guitar songs appeal musically before the ideas sink in lyrically, a trick that fails unless the ideological underpinning is worthwhile -- Jackson's is. -- T. R. THE ROLLING STONES ``Dirty Work'' (Columbia OC 40250) -- ``One Hit (To The Body)'' is typical: Keith Richards's rhythmic finesse so outclasses Mick Jagger's crudities that the rest of the band scampers around in vain, ornamenting recycled licks that barely work as songs. As a result, individual moments stand out more than the whole -- Charlie Watts's unfathomably cool drumming turns one of two nonoriginals, ``Too Rude,'' into the best song here. ``Sleep Tonight,'' which Richards sings as much to himself as to the late pianist it's dedicated to (Ian Stewart), humbles even the tasteless record sleeve drawings. Otherwise, the video for ``Harlem Shuffle'' offends nonracists, and the Stones' debut album for CBS is one you can skip. -- T. R. JACKSON BROWNE ``For America'' (Elektra 60457-1-E) -- Browne lacks the sense of humor essential to carry a bona fide rock album, even though he still has pros like Russ Kunkel and Jim Keltner laying down solid drumming patterns behind his patriotic pleas. ``For America'' and ``Lives in the Balance'' are modeled after the cover's heavy-handed image: the Statue of Liberty obscured by scaffolding. ``Candy'' is a name ballad unworthy of the songwriting talent that once gave us ``Song For Adam'' and ``For a Dancer,'' and only the warmed-over reggae of ``Till I Go Down'' is truly danceable. Everybody knows there are problems in the world, but as his performance of his early ``For Everyman'' at the recent Amnesty International concert showed, good songwriting helps far more than good intentions. -- T. R.

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