Before it became a sort of art music too busy commemorating 20-year anniversaries to bother with the current releases, rock 'n' roll was about dancing. So it's not particularly surprising that many recent experiments in intelligent but accessible pop -- whether Paul Simon's "Graceland" or the Gang of Four's "I Love a Man in a Uniform" -- have been conducted to an inexorable dance beat. Rockers exploring such frontiers have searched and sampled widely for the perfect rhythms: the "world beat" of Caribbean, Latin, African and other, even less likely music, for example, or the once-loathed disco that British postpunkers have managed to rehabilitate as synth-pop.

With rock hopelessly fragmented into a welter of mutually contemptuous subgenres, dance-oriented rock is interesting not only because it has a good beat and you can dance to it. It also can confound the long-established barriers between rock-as-enduring-art and rock-as-disposable-product.

Eurythmics: 'Savage'

Seeking to redeem the movement by discovering its Major Artist, rock critics quickly pounced upon Eurythmics as an example of synth-pop done right. After all, singer-lyricist Annie Lennox is an outstanding performer and melodist-producer David A. Stewart is a skilled craftsman. Smart doesn't necessarily mean art, of course. Indeed, Stewart is known for producing (for others) commercially successful but artistically dubious pop records. But on recent albums, Eurythmics rose to the critical bait, attempting to broaden its trademark synth-and-voice style with conventional instruments, other singers and different styles.

Save for the ostentatiously sloppy acoustic-guitar-and-voice "I Need You," "Savage" (RCA 6794-1-R) is a return to the duo's classic style, and it demonstrates both how expressive and how limited that style is. Like its ancestor, disco, synth-pop is usually too one-dimensional to sustain an entire album. The best songs on "Savage" -- "Beethoven (I Love to Listen to)," "I Need a Man" -- rank with the band's best work, but Lennox's alternately kittenish and assertive vocals and Stewart's insistent beat don't create a broad canvas.

Virtually all the songs here are about sex, both the ones whose titles guarantee it ("Wide Eyed Girl," "I've Got a Lover {Back in Japan}") and the ones that sound like they might have other themes ("Beethoven"). If the duo's subject matter is obsessive, its take on it can be agreeably playful: "Love is a temple, love is a shrine/Buy some love at the five and dime," sings Lennox on "You Have Placed a Chill in My Heart." Even as they twit it, the relentless, sensual throb of songs like "Beethoven" remains Eurythmics' essential tactic.

The faithful will want to have "Shame," but the important thing about a record like this is that it's the occasion for the release of two or three great 12-inch singles. That doesn't bode well for Eurythmics' status as Major Artists. But it is good news for the dance clubs.

Public Image Limited: 'Happy?'

With records such as the monumentally downbeat "Second Edition," Public Image Limited created a sound both highly danceable and darkly, brilliantly corrosive. Along with the work of Leeds bands such as Gang of Four, P.I.L.'s early records set the standard for stark, jagged postpunk British dance music. When singer John Lydon (better known in his brief but infamous guise as Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten) split with guitarist Keith Levene, an early member of the Clash and a P.I.L. cofounder, P.I.L. lost its artistic rudder. Now essentially Lydon and a free-floating pool of sidemen, P.I.L. has become a traveling rent party, a mockery of the fiercely anticommercial stance of the Pistols and early P.I.L.

Lydon's Armageddon-rock now sounds querulous and petty: The first single off P.I.L.'s new album, "Happy?" (Virgin 7 90642-1), is a broadside directed at, of all places, "Seattle," and "The Body," his rewrite of the Pistols' puritanical "Bodies," is even less appealing lyrically than its predecessor. Still, "Seattle" sounds great, a swirling, big-bottomed chant that's as propulsive as the best of the Levene era, if not so venturesome. Though producer Gary Langan's sound is smoother and more predictable than that of vintage P.I.L., it still booms authoritatively. Where Levene's recent small-label releases have sounded like little-league product (albeit sometimes very likable little-league product), "Happy?" sounds huge. It's more proof that when the beat is strong enough, the division between commercial calculation and heartfelt art can become murky indeed.

Pierce Turner: 'It's Only A Long Way Across'

Although clearly audible, the dance rhythms are somewhat less prominent on "It's Only a Long Way Across" (Beggar's Banquet 6698-1-H), the debut solo album by Pierce Turner, a veteran of a little-heard New York cult band called the Major Thinkers. An Irishman who moved to Manhattan a decade ago, Turner has melded old-country airs with an American dance beat: Celtic disco, it could be called, except that the music has little of disco's trashy vitality. Fastidiously produced by postminimalist composer Philip Glass and his longtime engineer Kurt Munkacsi, "It's Only a Long Way Across" is a little prissy.

A pleasant melodist with a gift for evocative vignettes, Turner is most distinctive at his most Irish: slipping into the Latin mass on "How It Shone," warbling a hymnlike melody over ex-Major Thinker Larry Kirwan's chattering guitar on "Wicklow Hills." The noisy synthesizer parts (played by Turner himself) seem out of place. Turner's vulnerable voice, which occasionally recalls Marianne Faithfull, is well suited for gently rolling ballads like "Wicklow Hills," the first single. His rare upbeat forays are not without interest, though: "Musha God Help Her (Wexford Gossip)," for one, is a rollicking Irish jig as only a New York rocker could play it.