Janet Jackson

Damita Jo (Virgin)

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The last time Ms. Jackson transgressed community standards and common sense -- with the S&M lite of 1997's The Velvet Rope -- she returned with All for You, an artistic apology with little X in its sexuality. So even though Damita Jo was completed long before Janet's Super Bowl fiasco, it feels like the same sort of mea culpa. It's a nuzzle of the ear instead of a flash of breast, a set of songs more about love than lust, shining with a familiar, comforting glow.

Most of Janet's best singles have had that glow, their artfully recycled riffs allowing her to equal her artistic betters. Damita Jo offers some of the most inspired cutting and pasting yet, as Kanye West morphs a Jay-Z banger into the breathless hip-pop of "Strawberry Bounce," while longtime Jackson producers Jam and Lewis transform an old synth-dance classic -- Evelyn "Champagne" King's "I'm in Love" -- into a new one, "R&B Junkie." But that club candy is expected; the depth and sweetness of the slow jams aren't. West's swaying '50s pastiche "I Want You" is delightful, and soul smoothie Babyface reveals some real feelings on "Thinkin' About My Ex."

Of course, quality control eventually fails, and the simpering autobiographical soliloquies are simply unbearable. Yet this is still an album not far below Control and Rhythm Nation on the all-time scale. But thanks to one televised, ill-advised boob shot, it will forever be parsed for porn, and its considerable musical merits will remain an afterthought.

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