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