Wednesday, December 12, 2007

No. 275: Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814

Band: Janet Jackson
Album: Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: To say this record was successful would be an understatement. "Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814" is the only album in history to spawn seven top five hits. The album has sold 14 million copies worldwide. It came out at just the right time (the late 80s/early 90s) when a record that had some political overtones was fine, as long as it had a fantastic beat.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I don't know that the magazine has it wrong. This record is, essentially, a place in time. I want to fault RS for putting it on here, but I can't really.
Best song: Any of the seven top five hits are pretty good, but let's say "Miss You Much."
Worst song: "Lonely" sounds more dated than the rest of the record.
Is it awesome?: There a certain nostalgia to it.

In the same way I referenced Dr. Dre in a recent piece on Eminem, I would reference Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis with Janet Jackson.

Janet Jackson, if you take her family and producers out of the mix, isn't anything special. She's pretty, but nothing fantastic (and in pop music, women need to be pretty. Sorry.). Her voice is fine, but nothing special.

But, her famous name, her totally vanilla social commentary and especially her producers made it so this album ruled the airwaves for almost two years. Every time another single was released, it shot up the charts. It didn't matter if the video was ridiculous ("Escapade"), the song was nonsense ("Miss You Much") or was a cheap cop of a Poison song ("Black Cat").

The real revelation was "Love Will Never Do Without You," where Jackson finally acted like a pop singer in dressing in a very feminine way and highlighting her natural beauty (she would later take this too far on subsequent records).

Does "Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814" as an album today? Not really. There are a ton of nonsense sketches and small interstitials. And the production sounds dated (not in the good Madonna way, either). But, at its time, this record was huge. I mean, huge.

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