The Velvet Rope

Janet Jackson

Virgin Records, 1997



After a diva-quenched hip-hop-overbalanced Billboard Top 10 year, "The Normal One" released a "let's call it 'dance music' for now" album after a four year hiatus which included a depression, enemas and other stuff you don't want to hear about. The result is a surprisingly personal mindscape of the singer-songwriter, even for a singer-songwriter who's built her success on being personal. From Vanessa-Mae doing her thing in the elongated-interlude title track (she sounds like an e-guitar doing doublestops) to Lisa Marie Presley phoning in the middle of a masturbation in the interlude "Speaker Phone", it's proven that the Jackson Family is truly unique to have such a mindscape dubbed Normal.

Sequels. "What About" has the content of "This Time" with a Morissette twist. This observation initially makes for a very poppy single but the assumption is crushed with the lyrics "what about the times you said you didn't fuck her she only [I won't ruin this track for you]". Immediately the track is scrapped from the Singapore version of The Velvet Rope. "Every Time" is so much like "Again", it's astonishing they'd even try to put it in the tracklist. Different subject matter, same breathless voice. For those of you who hate over-the-top, here's relief; a seamless ballad from a voice that's impossible to go over-the-top.

She started it on janet. The kinky stuff is tight, four songs dealing directly with sexual intercourse. Descriptive, but nothing the Korean Censorship Committee jumped over; "My Need" is my personal favorite, a more mellow, suspended version of "You Want This". "Rope Burn"'s hyper-intimacy with her voice and suggestive imagery is a close second. An amusing remake of Rod Stewart's "Tonight's the Night" is achieved in grand 90's style by throwing in the menage a trois element. "THROB" had effectively kick-assed Madonna's "Erotica" for me and this album takes the bait. Even if "Anything" is so blatantly leftover from "Anytime Anyplace".my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

More of her respect-yourself messages are in "You" and "Special" (the latter is so saccharine, so Jacko-We-Are-The-World, it's plain bizarre to see it in the same album "Rope Burn" is in) and the "hidden" track "Can't Be Stopped" (how can a track be hidden if I've known it existed months before the album is released? They gotta start thinking of new gimmicks).

The new stuff is half-and-half. Fast tracks aren't what they used to be but we're all trying to pretend we don't miss raw funk. The tedious "Go Deep" doesn't have that drive to make it a good club number it's supposed to be, but "Free Xone", an honest anthem against homophobia, definitely cuts it. It's a multi-textured affair with an appealing bohemian frenzy. "Empty" might've been fun but the lyrics moves on from Internet love to repeating "I feel empty" for the remaining couple of minutes. "Together Again" is genuine happy-feeling. It sounds lame at first but pay attention to what she's singing; that vocal smile changes everything.

"I Get Lonely" starts off radio-friendly then moves on to Miss Janet sounding almost disinterested. She's even resorted to the airily chopping-note-to-pieces thing Mariah does (ever try to sing along to the first verse of "Butterfly"? Oxygen depravation). My opinion on the Joni Mitchell-sampled "Got 'Til it's Gone" isn't much different from other critics. Nice sampling, nice rapping, more Miss Janet needed. It's a great track to me because it's not something I expected I would like.

Another relief is not having interludes before and after almost every song. I don't care if you write the running time down next to them; they're misleading. And on janet., it was overloaded with one-liners that didn't quite contribute to the songs that came before/after. Amongst the songs in The Velvet Rope, the sound of a modem being activated leads into "Empty", aforementioned former Mrs. Jackson talks about Miss Janet's "coochie" before "My Need" and Miss Janet talks about depression and spiritual gardens before going into "Special". It all ... makes ... sense!

Janet Jackson grows up with every album. Grows more sure, more sexy, more thoughtful. Growing up is what she does for a living. Does it better than Madonna.The distance between Dream Street and The Velvet Rope is staggering. Change is scary. But with Miss Janet, change is better. Someday she'll be over it. That would mean she'd be all grown up by then.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1997 JB and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Virgin Records, and is used for informational purposes only.