Fifteen years ago, Janet Jackson revealed her sensual side on the groundbreaking, janet. For the first time in her career, the formally covered up star decided to let go of her inhibitions in the public eye. Critics and fans alike were enticed by the pop star’s seductive coos and come on’s. But judging from the sales of her last two albums, years of sharing sexual fantasy after sexual fantasy have led listeners to embrace the virtues of abstinence.
They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But if you’ve noticed a pattern, isn’t that incentive to try something new? Apparently not to Janet, who will not be denied the right to dish on her desires on her latest release, Discipline. While I won’t co-sign the ageist and sexist arguments that a woman of a certain urge should no longer discuss sex so fervently, I will say that it wouldn’t hurt Janet to reconsider the subtle approach. It must be tricky to come up with so many different ways to discuss one’s sexual appetite, which might be why Janet is obviously seeking to go the extra mile to convey what we already learned in 1993. In a press release about the release of Discipline, Janet said she was charting new creative waters. If only that were true.
To her credit, she did embrace change to some degree: She recorded Discipline without the assistance of longtime collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in favor of music’s hitmakers of the moment. Jermaine Dupri, Ne-Yo, Stargate, Tricky Stewart, The-Dream and Rodney Jerkins were all called into the studio with the hopes of adding a much needed boost to Janet’s fledging music career. If only new subject matter could compliment the new production value. On Discipline, Janet sounds part nympho, part aging diva trying to keep up with her would be replacements.
It works on some songs, but fails miserably on most. On the energetic first single, “Feedback”, Rodney Jerkins ponies up a club-ready track perfect for both Janet’s celebrated choreography and flirty vocal stylings. For the most part, she opts to forgo any shock and awe moments, repeating the lines, “sexy, sexy, sexy” to grab your interests, versus a full onslaught of visceral come on’s she’s now become known for. And then you hear the line: “My Swag is serious, something heavy like a first day period.” While that may pique the interest of the people working at Tampax, it’s not exactly the type of line you want to throw out to turn someone on.
Thankfully, not every song beats you over the head with Janet’s absurdities. There’s “Luv”, the groovy and catchy follow-up to “Feedback” that reminds listeners of the early stages of the pop star’s career when she sang about her affections innocently. There’s also “Rock With U”, a sensual gem in which Ne-Yo helps Janet pay an indirect homage to the disco themes that worked so well on big brother Michael’s song of the same name. The song sounds almost euphoric, and compliments Janet’s whispery delivery on the track. It’s a digitized form of pop music Janet should look into for future recordings.
And then you have the rest. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way Janet decided to keep up with the Jones’ rather than make everyone else keep up with the Jacksons. That mindset is what has led her to record songs like “What’s Ur Name”. It’s good to know Janet has kept up with technology, but isn’t it a bit weird hearing a 41-year-old talk about her Sidekick and adding a dude to her MySpace favorites? I’m trying not to sound like an ageist, but she’s too old for a Sidekick and MySpace. Try a Blackberry Curve, Janet.
Not surprisingly, the most disturbing song on the album is the one in which Janet seeks to push the sexual limit past capacity. On “Discipline”, which she calls her “baby making song,” she offers up another ode to masochism and S&M.
Babe, I need some discipline tonight/ Don’t hold back/ I’ve been very bad/ Make me cry/ Got to make me cry babe/ I misbehaved/ And my punishment should fit my crime/ Tie me to something/ Take off all my clothes/ Daddy I want you to take your time (I’m scared)/ My heart is beating fast/ Shiver as you grab my neck/ Baby, blindfold me daddy/ Is better when I don’t know what to expect.
Though it’s intended to illicit arousal, it just sounds creepy considering the history of her family. What’s even more disturbing is that comes across as more of the same old, same old from her. It’s easy to point to the backlash Janet suffered from the Superbowl for the failure of 2004’s Damita Jo. But, as time passes on, it’s becoming painfully clear that maybe the problem is Janet herself. In the 1980s and 1990s Janet Jackson was ever evolving — treating fans to a different sound and image with each release. These days her look and sound seem nothing more than a continuation of 2001’s All For You. While she may be pushing the sexual envelope, she hasn’t managed to a put a dent in the creative one for years. If the success (or lack thereof) of “Feedback”, is any indication, the good times, much like the closing track on Discipline are “Curtains”. If Jackson wants to know why that is, she should try on the role of fan and asks herself, “What have you done for me lately?”