MICHAEL FRANKS has always had a way with words. His best songs have been clever and playful commentaries on modern romance, and more often than not have radiated a sensuous beat. You'll find a similar groove on his new album, "The Camera Never Lies," but this time around words seem to fail him.

The lyrics to the opening tunes "Face to Face" and "I Surrender," for example, lose what little charm they possess long before the tune expires, so we're left with one of those tedious fades, with Franks merely chanting the tune titles over a bouncy rhythm track. As a songwriter, he also comes up short on the album's title cut, which accentuates his wistful vocal style by adding Art Garfunkel to the mix, and on the pop-funk novelty tune, "Doctor Sax."

Only "Island Life," a terrifically appealing Caribbean melody, and the lush ballad "Innuendo" come close to rivaling Franks' best.

Still, he's assembled a first-rate band of fusion and studio all-stars. Several of the cuts can be enjoyed solely for the musical contributions of guitarists Steve Kahn and Earl Klugh, saxophonists Michael Brecker and Bill Evans and percussionist Ralph MacDonald.

MICHAEL FRANKS -- "The Camera Never Lies" (Warner Bros. 9 25570-1). Appearing with Noel Pointer Friday at the Warner Theater.