Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Janet Jackson

  • Control [A&M, 1986] B
  • Rhythm Nation: 1814 [A&M, 1989] A-
  • Janet [Virgin, 1993] A-
  • Design of a Decade 1986-1996 [A&M, 1995] A-
  • The Velvet Rope [Virgin, 1997] A-
  • All for You [Virgin, 2001] B-
  • Damita Jo [Virgin, 2004]
  • 20 Y.O. [Virgin, 2006] Dud
  • Discipline [Island, 2008] Dud

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Control [A&M, 1986]
I scoffed at Janet's claims of autonomy--figured Jam & Lewis wrote her in as collaborator for a price she could afford. But she must have had some input--otherwise what would be not to like? Great beats here, their deepest ever. If her voice ever changes, she may even live up to them--and convince the world she's her own woman. Till then she's just playing, which does have its entertainment value. B

Rhythm Nation: 1814 [A&M, 1989]
She's still Janet Jam-Lewis to me--Quincy Jones's natural bodily rhythms are nothing like Thriller's, but every Flyte Tyme production has showed off these angular beats. Not so smashingly is all--if the P-Funk pretensions of "nation" are a little much from somebody whose knowledge of the world is based on the 6 o'clock news, the "rhythm" is real, and I give her credit for it. Her voice is as unequal to her vaguely admonitory politics as it was to her declaration of sexual availability, but the music is the message: never before have Jam & Lewis rocked so hard for so long. Best slow stuff: the murmured moans and irregular breathing of the sexually available "Someday Is Tonight." A-

Janet [Virgin, 1993]
At least the money that went into this obscenely expensive record comes back as physical luxury: the difference between hearing it on a cheap box and a booming system is the difference between daydreaming about sex and having somebody's crack in your face. Which is only one way it's more pornographic than obscene. And which doesn't make it Jam & Lewis's. This achievement is Janet's, period--those who disagree should send me the name of that hot number in the S.O.S. Band they couldn't wait to boff. Better nose than Michael, better navel than Madonna, better sex than either. A-

Design of a Decade 1986-1996 [A&M, 1995]
Her three count-'em three A&M albums produced 12 count-'em 12 top-five singles. All are here. So are two excellent tracks from her one count-it one Virgin album, and two rather less excellent previously unreleaseds. The three estimate-'em three million who own A&M albums two and three needn't bother. Those who begrudge her the place she's earned in the pop cosmos have some catching up to do. A-

The Velvet Rope [Virgin, 1997]
Why do I believe that this self-made object's mild kink and coyly matter-of-fact bisexuality are functions of flesh pure and simple? That for her sex really is about pleasure rather than power--or even, except as a side issue, love? Because her sex songs are flavorful where her love songs are all cliche, and because her much-berated fluting little-girl timbre whispers innocence even when she's loosening her new friend's pretty French gown. So in the absence of total personal fulfillment, here's hoping she retains her ability to feign delight, to fool herself as well as everyone else. A-

All for You [Virgin, 2001]
Fifth time through or so, having vaguely enjoyed the title tune's thirdhand chic and patted my figurative foot to two other early songs and conceived something a little more fattening when she invited/implored me (me--we hardly know each other, but hey) to "taste" her, I got to the Carly Simon duet again, and finally it hit me. This wasn't just weird, it was revolting. Once Janet was a repressed young thing discovering her sexuality, and that was fun for everybody; now she's a rich 35-year-old demanding sex, and even if her body wisdom is manifestly subtler than Carly's, the thrill is gone. And then there's a fabled production team that has achieved precisely nothing on its own since she turned into something slinkier and more carnivorous than a cash cow--a cash mink, say. B-

Damita Jo [Virgin, 2004]
See: But It's Really Good Sex.

20 Y.O. [Virgin, 2006] Dud

Discipline [Island, 2008] Dud

See Also