Whitney, dynamic diva of the dentist set

Whitney Houston/Various Artists - The Bodyguard Soundtrack (Arista) WHAT lungs Whitney Houston has! As if bypassing her throat entirely, Whitney's voice shoots from her chest clear into the stratosphere. No fleshy strain mars her singing, no human flaw. Robotic perfection is what she soars on, promoting the tempting fantasy that deep and troubling emotions can be tamed into something controllable and precise.

All of which no doubt played some part in skyrocketing Whitney's blustery version of I Will Always Love You (contained on The Bodyguard soundtrack) to No. 1 on the charts in a record-breaking three weeks. (The album likewise quickly seized the top slot).Such an athletic stunt is played out in the music as well. Basically what Whitney has done is to take a sweetly brittle expression of faith recorded 18 years ago by Dolly Parton and bloat it into a musical cross between an Olympic javelin throw and a circus sideshow.

You can practically envision barkers braying as she sings: ''Hear Houston hurl notes farther than any living human! Gasp as she tries to break Streisand's record for sustain!'' Not that this approach lacks its own appeal. As a purely physical force, Houston's instrument has always been a blast to document.

Moreover, Houston's style caters to a taste hardly anyone even bothers with anymore. For those countless throngs who still curse the day rock 'n' roll forever banished torch singers to Vegas oblivion, Whitney's ascent comes as sweet revenge.

All of this can be respected so long as Whitney sticks with her forte - schmaltz. But in the six new tracks she contributed to this soundtrack, only two serve her certified public accountant crowd well (I Will Always Love You and I Have Nothing). The rest are stretches. To prove the dubious assertion that she does indeed have soul, Whitney takes a running leap at I Am Every Woman, a number so identified with Chaka Khan, only drag queens can reinvent it now. In Queen of the Night, she proves herself equally inept at rock 'n' roll, ripping off En Vogue's Free Your Mind in the process. Her stab at gospel, Jesus Loves Me, sounds like it was recorded not in a church but in a mall.

Rounding out the record are significant flubs from other big names. The terminally swanky Curtis Stigers offers what has to be the misbegotten cover of the year - Nick Lowe's What's So Funny 'bout Peace, Love and Understanding. What's next? Michael Bolton doing Anarchy in the UK? Worse, the orchestral Theme From The Bodyguard blatantly rips off the Chinatown theme. We also get yet another soundtrack appearance from Joe Cocker, a man who's warbled over so many closing credits it's getting hard to know a movie's really over until he shrieks.

On the plus side, there's an nice track from Civilles & Cole's new group The S.O.U.L. S.Y.S.T.E.M., combining adult contemporary with street beats, plus a middling number from the reliably randy Lisa Stansfield.

Still, nothing can detract from the album's central flaw: Houston's refusal to admit her true appeal. Face it, Whitney, there are worse things in the world than being diva of the dentist set.

Thomas Dolby - Astronauts & Heretics (Giant): This synth-pop kitsch specialist takes a dramatic and welcome turn, offering reflective lyrics and broader range of instrumentation - though he still has the touch for good grooves. Guests include Eddie Van Halen and members of the Grateful Dead and Siouxsie & the Banshees.

The Lovemongers - The Lovemongers (Capitol): Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson take an indulgent holiday with this four-song EP of covers. Their acoustic renditions of Led Zeppelin and Todd Rundgren work, but Papa Was a Rollin' Stone is soulless and their own Crazy on You is a yawner. - Gary Graff.