Keith Sweat sings R&B love songs with burning, even scorching intensity. But he's like a child with imaginary playmates. On his new album -- the long-delayed follow-up to his 1987 double-platinum debut, ''Make It Last Forever'' -- the women he sings about don't have much reality. They don't have names or personalities. All we know is that they either love him or do him wrong, and that -- with his voice, at least -- he swarms all over them.
Here he is wooing a woman in the second half of a two-part song called ''Your Love'': ''When I first met you I knew it was going to be like this. I looked at your lips and I knew I had to put my lips on your lips. I knew I had to kiss you all over your body. Can you feel it? I can. I said, I can!''
At this point he's only murmuring over a mild hip-hop beat, as if he were a cross between a rapper and a latter-day Barry White. It's when he sings -- with a rasp like a rough caress -- that he pours it on. ''I can't help myself,'' he pleads in the first part of ''Your Love.'' ''Tonight I want, I want -- I want it all, every little bit, every little bit, every little bit.'' The words tumble out in a style descended from gospel, the stress shifting each time Sweat repeats a phrase.
But despite all this passion, there's no obvious pop hit on the record, nothing like ''I Want Her,'' the catchy smash from ''Make It Last Forever.'' Only one song stands out musically -- ''Merry Go Round,'' about a woman who makes Sweat feel as if he's trapped on one -- and it's memorable only for a repeated scrap of familiar circus music woven into the beat. Most of the tracks sound interchangeably slow and steamy. ''I gave you everything you wanted,'' Sweat insists in ''I Knew That You Were Cheatin''; ''Didn't I give you everything you wanted?'' he asks in ''Merry Go Round.'' It's tempting to wonder what a real woman would do if Sweat kept singing words like that to her. Would she sink under the onslaught? Or would she decide he protested too much, and just get up and leave? C+