It’s been 20 years since the release of Janet Jackson’s Control and 10 years since I began writing for the Daily Vault. While I feel each and every one of those years, Miss Janet hasn’t tweaked with her formula much for two decades now: a little voice layering, a lot of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, a beat. And music that sounds like it was recorded yesterday.
But it may be a time for a drastic overhaul.
Manipulating the media and exposing Justin Timberlake for the sissy he is is all fine and well, but the point of reeling them in with the hype has always been for the music, not fame or vanity or insecurity. Janet’s sound is getting tired, and it’s no real fault of anyone involved – Jermaine Dupri, who produced most of this album, fixtures Jam & Lewis, Janet herself -- the collaboration just doesn’t have the energy it used to have. Even Janet’s usually fine songwriting is dogged down under an obligation to “keep it light” this time around, as she announces in the interlude to the album.
But without the “weight” she leaned on in her previous albums (racism, spousal abuse, children) her tracks lose gestalt and end up sounding unfinished. They don’t take off. Even the (surprisingly few) dance tracks that are supposed to be more energetic, harder -- “So Excited,” “Show Me” -- tend to drag their feet with nothing to push off from. Janet’s body may be legendary, but she has so much more to reference than that.
So no. 20 Y.O. is not a dance album. It’s more like a groovy R&B atmospheric kind of disc, something you put on in a “That’s the Way Love Goes” situation. It’s also not any kind of real tribute to Control, an album which was like a window into a new world (Rhythm Nation?). Janet’s mythical contract with Virgin/EMI comes to an end with 20 Y.O., and it’s a good time for her to start something new, something more writing-centered, which is what the best songs from her past couple of albums have been.
Twenty years is not ten years. It’s not yesterday. Show me.