Pop stars don't age too well, especially women. Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson are considered has-beens and they are only in their mid-twenties. The smartest move Christina Aguilera made was to trash the leather chaps, wear drag queen-ish gowns and focus on her untouchable vocals. Celine Dion and Aretha Franklin can be great vocalists at any age. Sadly, pop stars expire and the media loves to watch.
Now, we have a 41 year-old Janet Jackson who returns today with her tenth studio album, Discipline. The twenty-track album is complete with thirteen songs and nine interludes. The five-time Grammy winner takes her listeners through the trials of love and S&M sex. Yes, the obvious criticism is that Janet is still a hot, horny kitty cat, purring through every song. Janet wants some d**k, "And you! And you! And you! You're gonna love me!" For many it's challenging to love the same recycled theme since a Clinton was in the White House. Therefore, critics, and even some hardcore Janet fans, cry for the "old" Janet, "political" Janet, "introspective" Janet, or anything but this Janet.
As I write this review I will attempt to let go of the "old" Janet or what I, and others, want from the international superstar. She is an artist, an icon and has paved the way for nearly every pop star we see today. No, she will never have the days of 1989's "Rhythm Nation 1814", just like Madonna will never reclaim the days of 1998's "Ray of Light". And, honestly, if Janet continued to sing about combating racism people would still shout, "She's been singing about the same thing for twenty years!"
"Discipline" is a strong album and probably one of the most solid pop albums I've heard since Britney Spears "Blackout". The first four tracks are undeniably infectious: "Feedback", "LUV", "Rollercoaster" and "Rock With U". With producers like Jermaine Dupri and Rodney Jerkins, Janet seemed hell-bent on letting her listeners know, "I paved the way for pop."
The music sizzles, and yes, there are some criticisms that the lyrics are vapidly juvenile. I can't argue with that, but when would one look to pop music for amazing lyrics? If you want groundbreaking poetry in the music, I suggest you leave that to Tori Amos and Erykah Badu.
Nonetheless, the biggest error with "Discipline" is there wasn't enough input from the icon herself. She wrote and produced very little on this project, which is disappointing since she is the first black female recording artist to receive a Grammy nomination for Producer of the Year. Some of the directions the album took didn't feel like the Janet we all know and worship. Even Britney Spears would protest if the music or lyrics didn't fit her. I could see it now, while grubbing on some KFC and guzzling Budweiser, Britney screaming, "That ain't me!"
Even in songs like the ballad "Greatest X", where she cries that an ex is her "greatest ex ever", it simply isn't believable since for the past four years we've heard of her undying love for Jermaine Dupri. Does Janet think Renee Elizondo or James DeBarge was her greatest ex? Regardless of expectations, we want to believe what the artist performs. Maybe the world knows too much about Janet to remove her from the music.
Still, the music remains good, especially in songs like the mid-tempo jam "Never Letchu Go" or "Can't B Good", which has single potential. Yes, some songs fall flat like the hectic Missy Elliot collaboration "The 1" or the maniac, rave sounding, "2nite".
Then there is the S&M romp every critic is ranting on, the title track. Janet orgasms through lyrics, "Daddy, I touched myself, when you told me not too... my punishment should fit the crime." For some, the idea of an adult woman like Janet calling someone "daddy" isn't sexy, just disturbing. Regardless, "Discipline" is an excellent song with its soaring background vocals, something we rarely hear in pop music, a melodic Janet Jackson who is actually holding notes and an intoxicating rhythm that was conjured up by Ne-Yo. Is the problem more Janet than the actual music? When I didn't listen to "Discipline" as a Janet Jackson record -- I enjoyed it more.
Again, "Discipline" is a good album. Critics would enjoy the album more if it were sung by a twenty-year old, which has many elements of ageism and sexism. When people argue Janet has not grown with her fans, then you must ask -- where can she grow? She isn't a soul or folk singer; she is a make-you-feel-good pop star.
No, this is not a comeback record nor will there be any number one singles, but it's tough to say this isn't a solid pop album. Moreover, if the legend never has another hit record, she has still made a historical mark on pop culture. No one can take that away from Miss Janet Jackson.
by Janet Jackson
Original Release Date: February 26, 2008
Label: Island / ASIN: B00112ARJ0
Click here to purchase "Discipline".