JOE JACKSON is the bard of mock and roll. He has been described as bitter, critical, dour, sour, and arrogant - but his fans love him that way.With a new album and new record contract, Mr. Jackson seems jollier about the rock-and-roll career he once shunned, even if his songs still signal the same old sardonic Joe. He's even made a pop video for MTV, something he hasn't done for years. The British musician has never been one to keep personal commentary to himself. In the past, his often humorous barbs have been aimed at love, relationships, society, United States foreign policy, and big business. In fact, he even takes a jab at the very industry that nurtured his career. During the first of two shows in the Boston area, he introduced a song called "Hit Single" with classic Jackson sarcasm: "This is a song that some people have interpreted as some sort of satirical attack or making fun in some way of the music business or record industry or the label industry. Of course this is completely ridiculous. This song is actually about being single...," he told the audience. He sang: "And if you think that being serious and smart/ Gets you where you should be/ You must be not only joking/ But way too heavy for me/ 'Cause I'm a hit single/ Goin' straight to number one." Jackson and his six-person band recently completed a tour of the US, following the release of "Laughter and Lust," his 10th album and the first he has recorded for Virgin Records. Like some of his previous albums, "Laughter and Lust" touches on life's absurdities through the eyes of Jackson. He addresses commercialism ("It's All Too Much,Hit Single"), world issues ("Obvious Song"), and personal relationships ("When You're Not Around," "Stranger Than Fiction"). While Jackson may be sarcastic at times, he's often overlooked for his more introspective pieces. "Trying to Cry" deals with the difficulty some men have in expressing sorrow. "Drowning" and "The Other Me" (one of his favorites) examine conflicting emotions in relationships. Musically, Jackson is known for his eclectic blend of styles, from jazz of the '40s to salsa. In the early '70s, he studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Starting with the 1979 releases of "Look Sharp" and m the Man," which were tagged as New Wave, Jackson's career has had a fair number of artistic detours. His musical resume includes movie sound tracks ("Mike's Murder,Tucker," and the score for "Queen's Logic"), a few live albums, an instrumental album scored for a 40-piece orchestra ("Will Power"), and a tribute to jazz greats ("Jumpin' Jive"). In 1989, he released "Blaze of Glory," focusing on youth and rebellion. On stage in Boston he referred to the record as "my most underrated album." Jackson opened the sold-out concert with the solo keyboard number "Steppin' Out," for which he received two Grammy nominations, followed by "Different for Girls," performed as a duet with musician Mindy Jostyn. Minutes into the performance, he shed his mustard-colored dinner jacket, as the Orpheum Theatre had no air conditioning on one of the hottest days of the summer. Half of the songs he performed came from his most recent albums, the other half from his earlier pop-oriented albums. One audience favorite was a percussion-heavy cover of "Oh Well," an old Fleetwood Mac song. (Jackson thought the song suited him, as the lyrics state: "can't sing, I ain't pretty and my legs are thin.") Jackson jousted with his fans, but was more gracious than in the past when he was known to be ambivalent and even angry toward his audiences. "We're glad to be here with or without air conditioning," he said at one point. Jackson sang in "Stranger than Fiction," (from "Laughter and Lust") about how life can be strange filled with disaster and friction," and "ever immune to prediction," and also "filled with bizarre contradictions," but "only love can be stranger than fiction." He then introduced his band, aptly calling them "well-above average": Dan Hickey (drums), Ed Roynesdal (keyboard, violin, also his co-producer), Tom Teeley (guitar), Sue Hadjopoulos (percussion), Mindy Jostyn (vocals, harmonica, violin, guitar), and Graham Maby, his long-time bass guitarist. Jackson closed with two oldies: the fast-driving m the Man" and "Slow Song," then humbly thanked his audience.