Wednesday, November 28, 2007

No. 256: The Velvet Rope

Band: Janet Jackson
Album: The Velvet Rope
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: On Jackson's sixth studio album, her songwriting expanded to include songs about self-determination, sexual-political issues and general love songs.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'd suggest that "Janet." is a better record of hers, as "The Velvet Rope" is bogged down by endless interludes and songs about bisexuality (we get it, you like to kiss girls).
Best song: "Go Deep" is a great sexually explicit dance number.
Worst song: Her version of Rod Stewart's "Tonight's the Night (Gonna Be Alright)" isn't good.
Is it awesome?: It's pretty good, but it's not great.

I don't know if the Rolling Stone editors are stupid, this album is a big reason. The blurb on RS' Web site about the record is as follows:

Jackson left behind her girl-next-door image forever with The Velvet Rope, an album of sexy, confessional, freewheeling hip-hop soul. She fuses Joni Mitchell and Q-Tip in "Got 'Til It's Gone," but the shocker is her girl-girl version of Rod Stewart's "Tonight's the Night."

(Emphasis is mine.)

Um, "The Velvet Rope" came out in 1997. Four years prior, Jackson released "Janet.," which was an album that included the singles "Any Time, Any Place," "Throb," "What I'll Do" and "If." All of those songs are relatively explicit descriptions of sex. Not girl next door sex. "Throb" sex.


"The Velvet Rope" is more realized. Certainly, Jackson's feelings on sexuality are a bit more nuanced than on "Janet." though, I'd suggest that her emphasis on bisexuality has all the markings of a quarter-life crisis (when, indeed, she was 31 when the record came out). She also was more introspective, as "You" explores the unpleasantness of facades and falseness of being an entertainer.

But, I can't help but think that "The Velvet Rope" just isn't what it should be. At her heart, Janet Jackson makes dance music and dance music doesn't always work with songs about accepting homosexuality (a noble cause, indeed), as she attempts on "Free Xone."

"Got 'Til It's Gone" and "Deep" are the album standouts, largely on that simplicity that was evident in "Janet." "Got 'Til It's Gone" is based on a Q-Tip guest spot and a Joni Mitchell sample that work amazing well with Jackson's honey-rich voice. "Deep" is more of a club dance number that's about, well, going deep to the point of getting no sleep. That's the kind of thing we expect out of Janet Jackson and rightfully so.

The album has its highlights, but between the muddy sexual liberation songs and the endless interludes (the idea of sex over a dialup modem sounds positively quaint today), it's hard to find the great songs.

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