By David Browne
Updated October 16, 1992 at 04:00 AM EDT

Dumping on Michael Bolton is almost too easy — he sets himself up. Even though he can write his own anemic white-soul songs, the Eighth Wonder of the Curls has hammered out a career remaking familiar soul hits with his hernia-patient singing. And now that he’s finally a star after years in the wings, Bolton isn’t taking any chances: Timeless (The Classics) is an entire album of cover versions, making it one of the safest follow-ups to a hit album in history. The refusal of his record company, Columbia, to make the customary advance review copies available to the press isn’t likely to make critics any more fond of him.

See how easy it is to insult the poor guy? And wait until you actually hear Timeless, which amounts to a Big Chill soundtrack from hell. Genuinely timeless songs like the Bee Gees’ ”To Love Somebody,” the Four Tops’ ”Reach Out I’ll Be There,” and Dobie Gray’s ”Drift Away” — even ”White Christmas” — become, in his subtlety-be-damned paws, embalmed, overly orchestrated museum pieces. Bolton’s idea of soul, as usual, is to turn up the shriek quotient, resulting in such unintentionally hilarious moments as his torture-victim version of ”Yesterday.”

But let’s face it: Expending hours of hate over Bolton is ultimately a waste of energy. Like anyone who makes a career out of remakes — Linda Ronstadt in the ’70s, for instance — Bolton is destined to be little more than a razor-voiced pop footnote. As Timeless (The Classics) so aptly demonstrates, Bolton’s fate has already been sealed: He’s a Trivial Pursuit answer waiting to happen. D