By Kristina Feliciano
May 07, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

With the American Idol crew making adult-contemporary music popular again, the time seems right for the genre’s original stars to attempt a comeback. But as Lionel Richie’s new CD proves, crafting pop that connects with listeners despite its schmaltz is nearly as difficult as winning Simon Cowell’s approval.

Richie, who once excelled at treacly trifles, called in reinforcements for Just for You, including Lenny Kravitz and songwriters Paul Barry and Mark Taylor, who know from light, easy favorites, thanks to their work with Enrique Iglesias. But the aural adornments — the sounds range from Corrs-lite Celtic to power ballads a la Seal — are out of proportion to the lyrics, which are even more flaccid than in Richie’s ”Dancing on the Ceiling” days.

Patti LaBelle also had a makeover for her latest, working with Babyface on a track and getting assists from rap duo Floetry and Carlos Santana. But her guests maintain a respectful distance, discreetly deepening the grooviness dormant in LaBelle since ”Lady Marmalade.” Timeless Journey glimmers with acid-jazz and neo-soul rhythms, and LaBelle is given sassy lyrics worthy of her diva self. That’s what we call a new attitude.