Album Reviews


Janet Jackson

The Velvet Rope  Hear it Now

RS: 3.5of 5 Stars Average User Rating: 4.5of 5 Stars


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Janet Jackson talks too much. Seven of the 22 tracks on "The Velvet Rope" are so-called interludes -- spoken-word pieces meant to lend extra dramatic gravity to a record already heavy with moral instruction. It's as if Jackson doesn't trust the thrust of her music -- the Prince-style electrogallop of "Free Xone," the drum-and-bass crackle of "Empty" -- or the stout heart in her buttery singing to carry the load. And the message itself is confusing: a lecture in tolerance and tearing down walls by a woman who routinely positions herself on record, in public, as an object of worship. Except for those rare, explosive episodes when Jackson truly loses herself in the locomotion -- the happy house beats of "Together Again," the hopping-mad cadence of "What About" -- "The Velvet Rope" feels like a grand exercise in contrived honesty.

Jackson wants you to believe she's a woman in charge. Ani DiFranco doesn't care what you think; she's been running her own show from the ground up for years. "Living in Clip" is a career-defining package, an indie-rebel-folk "Frampton Comes Alive" that celebrates DiFranco's entrepreneurial savvy, the iconoclastic vigor of her songwriting and her prowess as a performer. In agenda and mood, she evokes improbable but wholly believable flashes of Pete Seeger, Chrissie Hynde, "Blood on the Tracks"-era Bob Dylan and -- come on, go with this -- an acoustic, well-tempered Hole. But if there is plenty of punk here, it's punk as autonomous action and dedicated purpose -- a work ethic of the heart: "I just write about what I should have done/I sing what I wish I could say/And I hope somewhere, some woman hears my music/And it helps her through her day" ("I'm No Heroine"). That goes for guys as well. (RS 776/777)

(Posted: Dec 18, 1997)


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