Sunday, March 9, 2008

Janet: What you’ve done for us lately

It was Janet Jackson’s appearance on CNN’s Larry King Live (Feb. 29) which for me signaled the existence of her new album, Discipline. Her charming, unaffected demeanor caught my attention, and I went out and bought the CD the next day.

I love Janet Jackson. I always have. While she’s never really surpassed the quality of her 1989 Rhythm Nation, a brilliant concept album which is also a lot of fun and resulted in an unparalleled seven top 5 hits, she’s done extremely well. She’s had nine consecutive albums debuting in the top three on the Billboard charts. It’s unfortunate that most recently, she’s better known for her 2004 Super Bowl wardrobe snafu while performing with Michael Jackson wannabe Justin Timberlake during the half time show, rather than for her music. While 2006’s 20 Y.O (the title in part a nod to 20 years since the release of Control in 1986) is pleasant for a rainy day or a 16-hour flight, it is sometimes bland.

Released on Feb. 26, Discipline entered the charts at #1. At 41, she proves to all the amateur pop starlets that she still reigns in her status as a pop cultural icon. And unlike Madonna, who has constantly reinvented herself (for better and for worse), all Janet has had to do is be herself. And she looks fantastic. The collaboration with her long-time boyfriend, music producer Jermaine Dupri, is successful. Overall, Discipline is a sexy, racy, dirty, and gritty album (mind you, with zero profanity). It’s better not to pay too close attention to the lyrics, because if you’re sensitive like me, you’ll just be gasping every few seconds.

It opens with the charging, industrial-sounding “Feedback” and by the end of it you’re also thinking “yeah, that’s sexy, sexy, sexy.” It’s followed immediately by the uplifting, light “Luv,” perfect for a spring day. The danceable “Rock With U” (phonetically the same title as brother Michael’s 1979 hit from Off the Wall) is somewhere between Duran Duran and Kylie Minogue. “2Nite” has a pop flair that makes me want to listen to it repeatedly. “The 1” with Missy Elliot shows us how effortlessly relevant Janet remains.

Janet continues the tradition of formatting her album with “interludes,” which are primarily spoken. While rarely reviewed, this element is one of my favorite aspects of a Janet album. She began doing it with Rhythm Nation, in which they are extremely effective in keeping the album cohesive and tying together what I see are basically the 3 sections of it – the socially conscious section, the lighthearted dance/pop section, and the ballad section. There’s nothing quite as brilliant as the 4-second “Get the point? Good, let’s dance” (which Michael lip-synched for his on-stage performance of “Dangerous”) on Discipline, but the club-setting “Bathroom Break” and the meant-to-be-provocative “The Meaning” keep the listener’s interest piqued.

The verdict is that Janet still has it. To be honest, she’s kind of up there in a league of her own compared to anyone else out there today. She has nothing to prove but proves it anyways. And listening to her music is always a delightful escapade : )

As a dancer, she pretty much has no comparison besides her own brother. For your pleasure, along with a Good Morning America performance of "Feedback," I include a little old school Janet, the “Rhythm Nation” video. I enjoy few dance sequences more - possibly only the video for Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.”

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