Janet Jackson, "Discipline" (Island Def Jam)

Some pop stars sing about sex because it sells. Not Jackson, 41, who has been ridiculed -- tirelessly and wrongheadedly -- as an aging sex kitten ever since her nipple-exposing performance at the 2004 Super Bowl sent her career downhill. Her sensual, squiggly and quite lovely 2004 album, "Damita Jo," was a flop. So was the flirty -- and quite unlovely -- "20 Y.O." in '06.

Now comes "Discipline," a return to the electro-pop experimentation of "Damita Jo," led by a blippy and propulsive single, "Feedback." The single hasn't made much of an impact on radio, offering more proof that for Jackson, sex doesn't sell. But she keeps singing about it anyway.

Jackson has long gravitated toward adventurous tracks that complement the exotic timbre of her small, breathy voice. And "Discipline" is a headphone album, full of Ping-Ponging sound effects and whispered ad-libs. From "Rollercoaster" to "So Much Betta," this album should remind listeners that Jackson helped invent the hybrid electronic R&B sound that rules the pop charts. And "Greatest X," a collaboration with The-Dream, has something that's sometimes lacking elsewhere: a huge, hummable chorus. If anything, "Discipline" may be too subtle: a pretty, smartly produced collection that sometimes sounds like background music.



Dolly Parton, "Backwoods Barbie" (Dolly)

After a string of bluegrass-rooted albums and concept albums ("For God and Country" and remakes of other people's hits on "Those Were the Days"), "Backwoods Barbie" aims to return Parton to mainstream country radio. It has a modern Nashville production full of glossy guitars and full-scale buildups, with a couple of pop remakes (Smokey Robinson's "Tracks of My Tears" and Fine Young Cannibals' "She Drives Me Crazy" with a pronoun change) as insurance.

Parton devotes a few songs to her own success and celebrity: the determinedly inspirational "Jesus & Gravity" and the bouncy, oddly callous "Better Get to Livin.' " But she's far more appealing when she sings about infidelity. The fragile flutter in her voice and the reedy strength behind it make her as convincing as ever in the power-country ballads "Made of Stone," in which she's the betrayed wife, and "Cologne," where she's the other woman. She reaches back to honky-tonk in the easy-swinging "Lonesomes" and in "I Will Forever Hate Roses," an old-fashioned country waltz about a goodbye bouquet. And she finds the loneliness in the Celtic-rooted "Only Dreamin.' " Once again she's the voice of rural innocence all dressed up in big-city trappings, and still coming through as herself. (Parton performs May 7 at Northrop Auditoriumin Minneapolis.)