Janet Jackson - 20 YO
(Friday October 6, 2006 2:37 PM
Released on 25/09/06
Miss Jackson begins by excusing herself for being nasty: after two decades of often issue-based music, she says she feels all talked-out, and that it's time to enjoy herself. Which evidently means, when not emoting a series of tedious down-tempo love songs that some would call "ballads" in that breathy, little-girl-lost half-whisper, immersing herself in layers of smut.
This isn't a record that deals in innuendo or double entendres: why bother wasting time with such frippery when you can cut to the chase? "I'll open my spot for you / Anytime you want me to," she spits amid the pugilistic beats of "So Excited", making it sound more like a threat than a promise. "When you say to me / 'Aww Jan, your body feels like none I've ever felt' / It makes the you-know-what come out," she declares during "Get It Out Me". Ewwww. The aim was presumably seduction: but that requires an element of playfulness, and needs to leave something to the imagination.
It is understandable why Jackson still works with her long-term collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis: they have consistently crafted superbly muscular tracks for her, often without being given the credit for some genuinely groundbreaking and effective dancefloor-detonating pop. But they clearly have preconceived notions about what a JJ track ought to sound like. So, too, does current beau Jermaine Dupri, responsible for those parts of the music Jam and Lewis are not: while he brings a southern crunk sensibility to the party, he cannot emancipate the tracks from their enslavement to her sky-scraping '80s albums.
The result is a record that surgically removes all trace of sensuality and replaces it with calculated, mechanical, by-numbers bump'n'grind action. It is as if she has been replaced by a sexbot from "Westworld" or "Austin Powers": which is not only a turn-off, it is actually somewhat scary. In the middle of it all, indeed, Janet - sounding disturbingly like her most famous sibling, particularly during "With U"'s come-hither cooing - seems oblivious. There are moments that work: "Enjoy", a swooping Jam and Lewis production, is as good a song as she's sung in a decade, and even "Get It Out Me" finds partial redemption in the music, Dupri adding an obvious homage to crunk's principal archetype, Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock", after raising the pulse with some post-Timbaland tablas.
But in their combined desire to take Jackson back to her roots, the cast assembled here has concocted not a great Janet album, but a facsimilie of one, correct in all the details, but lacking substance and soul.
by Angus Batey
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