Rhythm Nation 1814

Janet Jackson

A&M Records, 1989


REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


As latter-day concept albums go, there have been few as memorable or successful as Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation: 1814. Not only did it turn MTV on its ear with its amazing and tightly choreographed videos, but it was the one album that predicted dark things to come for the African American community; namely, the L.A. riots.

“We are in a race between education and catastrophe,” Janet warns in one of her infamous spoken interludes, which have become something of a staple with every album she has made since.

The album photography, as well as many of the videos, was done purposefully in black and white, a signal that this was Janet’s message album. Whether it comes off as heavy-handed is open to debate, since I doubt dancing ever solved many of the world’s problems.

Midway through the album, it seems as though even Janet herself needs to break free from the claustrophobic feel of the first half. By incorporating lighter fare like “Alright” and “Escapade,” she attempts to bring an element of optimism and color to the otherwise gravely serious proceedings. However, those two songs are a jarring transition in an otherwise excellent album and serve as a reminder of why we’re glad the New Jack Swing genre has long since been dead and buried. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

When it comes to the several ballads here, all you can do is give Janet credit. Slow songs have always been dangerous territory for her, since they demonstrate how thin and limited her singing voice really is. The one selected as a single, “Come Back To Me,” is the best sung of the bunch. However, I prefer “Someday Is Tonight” because of its cool and sexy vibe. With her trademark purring and cooing, Janet has made such “baby-making” songs like this standard fare on all of her releases.

Even though the video for the title track is great, the chaotic-sounding song itself suffers from over-production. Tracks like “State Of The World” and “The Knowledge” end up being forgotten along the way because they are virtual carbon copies of each other. Then there is “Livin’ In A World (They Didn’t Make),” a song that probably would have been more at home on one of brother Michael’s albums. Janet also follows Michael’s lead on “Black Cat,” which is a rock-song-by-a- black-artist kind of thing in the tradition of the #1 hit “Dirty Diana.”

An album such as this is best appreciated as a whole.  Even though there were many singles released from it (four of them going straight to No. 1), when taken together it all adds up to an impressive work of art. The two best moments, however, are the twin peaks of “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” and “Miss You Much.” The most incredible thing about “Love Will Never Do” is that it went to No. 1 nearly a year and a half after the album had been first released. And the choice for leadoff single was a wise one indeed with “Miss You Much,” making audiences bolt up in their chairs upon hearing yet another new kind of sound coming from their radio speakers. 

If anything, it proved that the ultra-original, breakthrough album Control wasn’t a mere flash in the pan. This Jackson was intent on giving Madonna a run for her money and being the most famous member of her family.  Take that, Michael.

Rating: B+

User Rating: A



© 2007 Michael R. Smith 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 A&M Records, and is used for informational purposes only.