Review: Janet Jackson's latest CD 'Discipline'

Janet Jackson

On Janet Jackson's new album, 'Discipline,' there are new collaborators and new sounds, yet she writes about the same old thing -- her sexual prowess. (Island Def Jam Records Photo)

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On the title track of her new "Discipline" (Island Def Jam) album, over a loop of heavy breathing and Prince-ly slow-grinding synth-funk, Janet Jackson coos, "Take out your frustrations on me."

Well, she didn't need to invite more of that, did she? Since the infamous Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction in 2004, which unfairly torpedoed her "Damita Jo" album, Jackson has been struggling to regain her hit-maker status, a punching bag of sorts for those frustrated by everything from sexualized popular culture to FCC reform.

To her credit, Jackson didn't back down on 2006's "20 Y.O." and she doesn't give any ground thematically on "Discipline," named after a detailed account of her S&M fantasy. Of course, she has every right to sing about whatever she wants. But at this point, she's more interested in carrying on that fight than delivering anything new creatively.

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It seems like her mind is holding her back more than any sort of leather restraints she wants to fantasize about - and that may be the biggest frustration of all.

For the first half of "Discipline," Jackson seems determined to leave all the sexual shock-and-awe talk behind for a more radio-friendly sound. The first single "Feedback," with its robo-vocals and club-ready rhythms, is more flirty than outright sexy. "Luv" grooves along like it could have come from Ciara's album, aside from a few trademark Jackson harmonies. And the midtempo ballad "Can't B Good" could be one of her best.

"2 Nite" may be Jackson's strongest bid for a hit in years, with its swirling synths and a vibe that sounds like a playful throwback to her dance music period in the late-'90s marked by "Together Again." And that's where the frustration really develops. While that song uses the backdrop to paint a touching story of a love affair that is stronger than death, "2 Nite" uses a similar backdrop to talk about being horny.

Now that would be fine, if there weren't another pile of songs on "Discipline" that were about the same thing and if there weren't piles of songs on her previous albums that were also about being horny.

It's the same problem that hampers the promising "So Much Betta," which cleverly alternates between an industrial sounding Daft Punk sample and Jackson's unprocessed voice. Kanye West used a Daft Punk sample to combine a come-on with an inspirational message on "Stronger." Jackson squanders it on another string of boasts about her sexual prowess.

In her career, Jackson has written about personal struggles, about racism and sexism, about the importance of education and unity and about love. For "Discipline," she assembled a dream team of writers, including Ne-Yo and The-Dream, and producers, including L.A. Reid, Rodney Jerkins and her beloved Jermaine Dupri, who engineered Mariah Carey's comeback.

And yet, "Discipline" is about the concerns of 14-year-old boys expressed with the same amount of finesse that they would use.

Jackson has some great songs on "Discipline" and a handful of possible hits, but still somehow leaves you cold. How's that for frustrating?

DISCIPLINE. Janet Jackson uses new collaborators and new sounds to write about the same old thing. In stores Tuesday. Grade: B-

ALSO IN STORES. Erykah Badu's ambitious, soulful "New Amerykah: Part One (4th World War)" (Universal); Goldfrapp's dreamy, electronic "Seventh Tree" (Mute); Tift Merritt's Paris-influenced "Another Country" (Fantasy); Chris Thile's new bluegrass project Punch Brothers' debut "Punch" (Nonesuch); Dolly Parton's "Backwoods Barbie" (Dolly); Ludo's power-poppy "You're Awful, I Love You" (Island); Lizz Wright's jazzy "The Orchard" (Verve Forecast); Missy Higgins' Aussie folk "On a Clear Night" (Reprise); Ghostland Observatory's experimental rock meets dance grooves on "Robotique Majestique" (Trashy Moped); and a bunch of reissues from Nat King Cole and Dan Fogelberg.

SONG OF THE WEEK. It's been nearly four years since Gavin DeGraw's debut "Chariot" (J) arrived with a whole lot of Clive Davis-sanctioned hullabaloo and a lot has changed in the music world. Judging from his new single "In Love With a Girl," however, it seems DeGraw has stood still. In fact, this retread of his hit "I Don't Want to Be" is kind of a step backward with its bland- rock guitars and obvious chorus of "I'm in love with a girl." This is far more about being uptight than playing it safe. In fact, it's barely playing at all.

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