After the success of "Saturday Night Fever," any new album by the Bee Gees would almost have to be anti-climactic. So it's to the group's credit that its latest release, "Spirits Having Flown," is as pleasing as it is. With critics and a fickle public poised to blast anything the brothers Gibb might try to pass off after "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," the Bee Gees have althered their course just enough to sound fresh.

They're a bit lighter, and a bit more rockoriented now, but they're still unmistakably the Bee Gees. "Spirits Having Flown" is not a classic album, even when matched against the constantly changing criteria that recordindustry people use to label their product; rather, it's a well-crafted pop record and it gives the Bee Gees some breathing space between the music "that set the lifestyle for a generation" and a new beginning.

It may sound strange to suggest that the Bee Gees nees a new atart, but remember that this release is the first totally new Bee Gees studio work since "Children of the World" over two years age.

Since then, there has been a live tworecord set ("Here At Last"), the now-legendary soundtrack to "Sturday Night Fever" and the equally infamous remake of "Sgt. Pepper." These last two efforts point up just how big the Bee Gees have become.

Though most people consider "Saturday Night Fever" a Bee Gees record, the band contributed only six tracks -- and two of those, "Jive Talkin'" and "You Should Be Dancing," were previously issued. The fact that the four new songs were the four strongest pieces that the Bee Gees have ever done should not obscure the fact that the band recketed to fame on the strength of less than one full side of one record. With that thin a catalog on which to base their No. 1 ranking, it's astounding that the critical demolition of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" didn't demolish their standing the way it seems to have derailed the career of Peter Frampton, who hasn't done a thing since. So, besides providing s pleasant diversion, "Spirits Having Flown" showws the Bee Gees' resilience.

The collection contains "Too Much Heaven," a hit single long before the album was released. "Too Much Heaven" beautifully illustrates the pattern of all the songs on the disc: light, perfectly executed vocals, impeccable production, and an ear for the mass middle. The production team of the Bee Gees, Karl Richardson and Albhy Galuten have turned what is generally average material into an appealing mix.

It's easy to criticize the Bee Gees for lack of depth, but why bother when the band is so infectious? It would be different if the Bee Gees were simply putting out the same assembly-line pap that many other bands are currently producing in an effort to cash in the Bee Gees' success. But the Bee Gees' delivery rescues their fluff from this kind of mercenary hash. The Bee Gees may make fluff, but it's quality fluff.

Song for song, "Spritis Having Flown" is basically ten singles waiting for a release date. The title cut is the most ambitious, including all of the Bee Gee trademarks: steady beat, kshimmering vocals, full production and a chorus that you can sing inklthe shower.

"Tragedy," the current single, is more along the heavier lines of "You Should be Dancing" but the harmonies here sound suspiciously like David Seville's Chipmunks. In fact, at several points in the album, there is a tendency to confuse Maurice, Barry and Robin for Alvin, Simon and Theodore.

That aside, most of the cuts are produced with a nice balance of musical integrity and commercial ambition. "Love You Inside Out" is the perfect single, and should make the Top Ten on momentum alone. Here again, the rhythm section is toned down from "Stayin' Alive," but the vocals energize the melody. The tune doesn't get you thinking, but it does get you singing along, which is the idea.

The rest of the album alternates between straight disco, rhythm and blues, and pure pop. "Search, Find" copies its chorus from the Commodores' "Brick House," but it's good dance music. "Reaching Out" and "Until" are the colsest things to pre-disco Bee Gees. "Reaching Out" is a pretty ballad, but "Until" is an attempt at sensitivity that sounds particularly out of place as the album's last cut.

"Stop (Think Again)" has a Smokey Robinson sound (thought it lacks Robinson's sincerity) and "I'm Stisfied" features Herbie Mann's fulte, as well as Chicage's horn section -- Lee Loughnane, James Paknow and Walter Parazaider. (The Chicago personnel appear on most of the Bee Gees album, which on a popular-music level is like Exxon appearing with AT&T).

"Spirits Having Flown" will not change the face of rock'n'roll, nor will it be studied in universities a hundred years from now. It makes no claim to immortality, only to success -- and it reaches that goal.

It's easy to be down on the Bee Gees because they've made such a simple formula so outrageously lucrative. Some of the backlash this causes was evident when Billy Joel upset the Bee Gees in several Grammy categories. Just as in sports, in pop music everybody wants to take a shot at No. 1. Through it all, though, the Bee Gees have come out the big winners.

On "Spirits Having Flown," the Bee Gees have further blended their identities into a seamless package. Though that doesn't make for particularly memorable rock, it does make for some good listening.