Pop goes Janet

Janet Jackson: Damita Jo ***

VIRGIN, 13.99

Her name ain’t baby, it’s Janet, (Ms Jackson, if you’re nasty). Was that not how Janet Jackson’s hissy diss went, way back in the 1980s, when the idiosyncratic spasmodic clatter of her records was the "in" production sound of the era? More than 15 years on, with only an intermittent chart presence and still in the shadow of her bonkers brother, Jackson continues to exercise her right as a pop diva to be referred to solely by her first name.

Having been programmed from childhood for showbiz success, she is not going to relinquish the pop queen reins so easily. So, ahead of the release of her first new album in however many years (three, actually, but who, apart from the loyal fans, can remember the last time Jackson was big news in the UK?), she engineered a little fail-safe exposure.

I don’t want to write about it. Maybe you don’t want to read about it. But not mentioning it at this stage would be like meeting Medusa and trying not to notice the writhing hairdo or petrifying stare, or the fact that she’s a myth and would, therefore, be a figment of your imagination. Judging by the insane reaction it generated, Janet’s amazing breast-bearing stunt at the Superbowl was clearly just the kind of brainless distraction from grave, important stuff that the world was looking for at that particular moment.

Mercifully, she keeps her boobs (yep, both of ’em) under wraps on the sleeve of Damita Jo but, oops, her shirt has fallen off, just so we can all admire her silky flesh. Super.

Britney, Beyonc et al have inherited this brand of mechanical sexiness. Sex is just a marketing tool to these performers. If you convinced Jackson that it wasn’t sex, but gardening, that made the world go round, she would be first in the queue (OK, maybe second after Geri Halliwell) at WeedMart with her trowel and wellies purchases.

Damita Jo’s mammoth 22 tracks - some are little more than grooves and sketches, however - are splattered in sex, although Jackson teases with the notion that these songs are actually a window into her private life. "Do you think I’m that person that you watch on TV?/There’s another side that I don’t hide but may never show - Damita Jo," she coos. Damita and Jo are her middle names, and that’s about the only personal revelation you are going to get here.

Having said that, this is a thoroughly decent album, if in need of some judicious editing. Jackson is still working with her longterm producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. These guys were the Neptunes of the 1980s, and they’ve moved with the times to a degree. Damita Jo makes all the right moves for a modern, saucy R&B recording, including a guest appearance from superstar-in-the-making Kanye West. But scrutinise it next to the genuinely progressive sounds of Kelis’s current album and it sounds formulaic.

All Nite (Don’t Stop) is from the same school of male fantasy suggestiveness as Britney’s recent album, while R&B Junkie is an example of the kind of enjoyable retro bandwagon-jumping that bags Kylie a dancefloor hit every now and again. Janet, however, is a more convincing advocate for the old school R&B sound, having likely grown up on the stuff.

Halfway through the album she takes a breather from the brazenly steamy numbers to demonstrate that she still has a knack for cute, lonesome pop soul songs. On I Want You she sounds like brother Michael as a teenager, all toothsome and coy. Thinkin’ Bout My Ex is more cloying, like a schmaltzy boy band track.

Next, a succession of slinky pre- and post-coital ballads, with Jackson so seductively breathy that you can barely distinguish the lyrics. The intention is clear enough, however, when she segues a track called Warmth into one called Moist. Mmm, subtle. "Nothing can prepare you for the warmth of my mouth," she promises. Enough of that rehearsed phone sex talk, girl.

Jackson may not be the most convincing R&B siren on this outing, but that is largely down to the amount of mediocrity to be waded through before landing on a quality track. Slolove, despite its naff title, is a light, palatable slice of dancefloor pop. But it and everything that has gone before is trumped by closing track and forthcoming single, Just A Little While, a pop single that buries its dirty intentions under a catchy melody. Already a sizeable download hit, it is likely to hang around the charts and our heads for a while when released in mid-April.