Friday, March 14, 2008

Beating The Post-Velvet Rope Syndrome

I haven't written much about Janet Jackson's recent opus Discipline because I've already finished the print critique of the LP for my weekly gig at the Dayton City Paper. There is an issue I do want to address here, something that some Janet Jackson fans may or may not be able to relate to. I call it "The Post-Velvet Rope Syndrome.”

This "syndrome” deals with fans that haven't been able to let go of the creative plateau Jackson reached on her sixth album The Velvet Rope (1997). Each record that has come in its wake (four to date) has been met with scrutiny. Par the course, if you create a work of art with that kind of impact, those in favor of it want more of the same. However, if you can't appreciate the uniqueness of what comes later, then you aren't really respecting the artistic journey of said artist. I want to draw spotlight on the four LPs that followed The Velvet Rope: All For You (2001), Damita Jo (2004), 20 Y.O. (2006), and Discipline (2008) and why they've earned their own places in Jackson’s discography.

The All For You record was the soft serve response to the abrasiveness of The Velvet Rope.
Still carnally charged (proven to be a recurring theme by this point), it also had Jackson in her most pop vein ever. Fans of "Escapade," "When I Think of You," or "Runaway" were assuredly pleased. Cuts like the bouncy "Doesn't Really Matter," or the plush breeziness of the title track sat along well with the previously mentioned songs.

 All For You also housed to several other great jams: "Someone to Call My Lover," "Son of A Gun" (the album version with Carly Simon, not the dreaded single version with Missy Elliott), and the sobering "Truth." Structure wise, All For You was weak. The middle sagged with the weight of too many middling ballads, barring the splendor of "China Love." The closer "Better Days" felt like a true release after all of the preening All For You did; connection and vulnerability the mission of “Better Days.”

Damita Jo’s sonics wielded an adventurous edge rarely seen during any veteran stride of a recording act. An integration of new sounds and producers into the Jam/Lewis/Jackson trio was bountiful. From the spunky title track, to the rude snap of "Strawberry Bounce," Jackson returned to her urban roots after the pop of All For You.

Damita Jo contained a decent exhibit of Jackson's vocal work in "Island Life" and "I Want You." While “Island Life” rolled in a rainbow groove, “I Want You” was a wispy throwback. Further exploring led to Jackson’s forays into European urban dance with “All Nite (Don’t Stop)” and the sensual "SloLove." This theme wormed its way back into Jackson’s recent platter Discipline on the current single, "Rock With U."

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Jackson’s third album Control (1986), 20 Y.O. was Jackson’s most unapologetic set of R&B to date. The heady perfection of "So Excited," via sampled goodness from Herbie Hancock's "Rockit," delivered a cut worthy of rivaling "Nasty."

The sampled brilliance didn’t stop there as Brenda Russell's "If Only for One Night" got tapped for "Do It 2 Me,” a tight and funky piece. The sunny strut of "Enjoy,” to the tart pluckiness of "Call On Me" a flirty duet with Nelly, gave 20 Y.O. an almost perfect flow. Only the odd slice of groove in the form of "Daybreak" splintered the proceedings.

Discipline was Jackson’s first separation from Jam and Lewis since her second album
Dream Street (1984). Jackson showed that she had soaked up the Minneapolis funk-pop fusion into her core and that allowed for her to channel it through various producers. In this instance, majority of Discipline’s set was handled by Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins. The kaleidoscopic carnival ride of "Rollercoaster" is Discipline’s finest moment. There are others that shine brightly too: the cola-cool of "Luv," the Prince inspired "So Much Betta" and “Never Letchu Go" are also tasty. Discipline stumbled only on two songs: "The Greatest X" and "The 1" with Missy Elliot. Both felt perfunctory and didn't yield the magic that the best moments of Discipline did.-QH


RhythmicSoul said...

i love this post! u already kno how i feel on this one..All For You was and still is the ISH to me, i think it was light, fun, breezy and thats what i like to think about when it comes to JJ. "When we Oooo" still gets me everytime i hear it SHOO DOO DOO, DOO DOO AHHH! lol

Anonymous said...

Hey Q! I love your article. Thanks for breaking Janet's VR Syndrome. I have loved Janet since she began performing with her brothers, the J5 waaaay back in the 70's. Janet has a special place in my heart as with all black folks who grew up with her. My problem with her music is that its not innovative anymore. She's sold out believing she has to appeal to a younger audience by selling sex. My question is do we sell sex to kids? Grown folks don't need a blueprint of her bedroom antics. This image she's trying to shove down our throats is just not her. Some say this is her true self. That's fine. Keep it in your bedroom, J! Yes, she has interjected light sexual innuendo into her efforts pre-Velvet Rope but she left something to the imagination. IMO its gotten out of hand and downright unacceptable. Sexy is a mindset; not being half-naked and singing dirty lyrics. Janet used to be the one other pop artist were measured against. Now, she's just another half-naked woman who's T&A overshadows her so called music. She needs to stop letting rappers overshadow her soft, light sound too. By the way, I say this out of love; not hate. If I saw her at the family picnic I'd sit her down and have a nice long chat.

S. Flemming said...

Damia Jo gets my vote for the best record of that period. I thought the pacing was perfect. If people could get past the bullshit, they'd see just how good that was.

esotErik said...

I've been slow to respond to this post because of the premise from which it is based: that TVR was Janet at her creative peak. Now, you already know how I feel about TVR - it is NOT my favorite Janet album. Not even close. So, the assertion that Janet has been struggling to regain artistic footing since that project rings false for me. I've said it before: I enjoy Janet's music most when she's happy (as opposed to when she's not). And, in my humble opinion, ALL of her post-TVR lps have surpassed said project in quality - but not necessarily THEME. AFY, DJ, 20YO, and Discipline are all more consistently satisfying to me than TVR. Of course, TVR trumps them all thematically, but the statement that an album makes is not as important to me as the music itself. And TVR features Janet's lowest quality of songs since "Dream Street". Song-for-song, all post-TVR albums include klassik trax that will live on past Janet's own transition from this earth. TVR does too (contain the klassix) - just not as many.