Janet Jackson - Discipline Review
Posted by Mitch Michaels on 02.27.2008
Janet’s back with a new label and a new set of producers, but will that be enough to relaunch her career?
Not many female artists reach and maintain the level of success that Janet Jackson has found. In a business and genre where age is absolutely everything, only Madonna and perhaps Mariah Carey could rival Janet’s pure hitmaking longevity. Still, even the best of the best reach a point where their catalog material overshadows any new projects. Hell, if it could happen to Prince, it could happen to anybody. Janet has danced dangerously close to that line in recent years. Can a new album on a new label revitalize Janet’s already legendary career?
Janet Jackson was born May 16, 1966 in Gary, Indiana, the last of nine siblings. To call the family musically inclined would be an understatement. By the time Janet was in kindergarten, her brothers had found international success as the Jackson 5, who signed with Motown and scored an unprecedented string of hit singles in the late 60’s and early 70’s. At that point, Janet’s father Joseph moved the family to L.A.
By the mid-70’s, the success of the Jackson 5 was beginning to wane, so the father began to throw other siblings into the mix to shake things up. Janet was thrust into the spotlight and made her stage debut in Las Vegas in 1974 alongside all eight of her brothers and sisters. The show was a success, and led directly to a TV deal with CBS. “The Jacksons” variety show aired for two seasons (1976-77), with young Janet becoming a quick standout. This led to future work for the star, including spots on popular series like “Good Times”, “Diff’rent Strokes” and “Fame”.
At 14, Janet made her recording debut, singing a duet with her brother Randy on the single “Love Song For Kids”. By the next year, her father had scored her a record deal with A&M. Janet Jackson appeared in stores in 1982, but only found limited success on the R&B charts. A second record, 1984’s Dream Street, was similarly ignored.
At this point, Janet began to rebel against her family, particularly her father, who she felt had pushed her into a music career when her heart was really in acting. She left home at age 20, eloping with DeBarge’s James DeBarge. Unfortunately, the relationship didn’t prove to be her ticket out. She returned home quickly after and had her marriage annulled.
Janet’s father responded to the frustration by hiring Janet a new manager, who kept a tight leash on Janet as he taught her to sing and dance. Janet then hooked up with producer Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, members of Prince’s funk band The Time. The collaboration produced 1986’s Control, a much edgier, funkier affair than the light R&B of Janet’s first releases. Control became a massive success, scoring five Top 5 singles, including the #1 hit “When I Think Of You”. The album quickly became Janet’s first gold record, and by the end of 1986 it was certified triple platinum. By 1989, it was 5x platinum and had produced a pair of gold and platinum video collections.
Janet followed up with 1989’s highly anticipated Rhythm Nation 1814. The lead single, “Miss You Much”, was a platinum #1 hit, paving the way for a still unmatched EIGHT Top 5 singles from that album, including the other #1’s “Escapade”, “Black Cat” and “Love Will Never Do (Without You)”. The period between Janet’s fourth and fifth albums yielded some staggering numbers. Rhythm Nation was certified 6x platinum, and all of Janet’s singles were certified gold. The “Control” single was also certified gold, and Janet also scored another pair of multi-platinum videos. In 1992, a soundtrack contribution and collaboration with Luther Van Dross, “The Best Things In Life Are Free”, also went Top 10. Janet also underwent her first major tour in support of Rhythm Nation and, in 1991, jumped from A&M to Virgin for a reported $32 million payday. In 1992, she starred in her first movie, Poetic Justice, with Tupak Shakur.
Jackson made her Virgin debut in 1993 with the highly seductive R&B groove album janet.janet. would be the first album by a female artist to debut at #1 on the Billboard 200. The record nearly matched Rhythm Nation’s amazing sells, reaching 6x platinum on the back of eight Top 40 singles, including the platinum #1 hits “That’s The Way Love Goes” and “Again”. A&M capitalized on Janet’s success with the 1995 compilation Design Of A Decade, which spawned a new #1 hit in “Runaway”. Design became a #3 hit album, reaching double platinum in less than two months. A duet with her brother Michael Jackson, “Scream”, became a notable Top 5 hit during this period.
Unfortunately, with all of her success came a great deal of pressure. While recording her follow-up to janet., Jackson suffered from a severe bout with depression. The Velvet Revolver appeared over four years after janet.Rope was touted as Janet’s most personal album to date, a mix of janet.’s raw sexuality and social consciousness. The lead single, a dirge for AIDS victims called “Together Again”, went gold and reached #1 on the charts. The follow-up, “I Get Lonely”, also certified gold and reached #3. Those would be the only Top 10 hits from the album, however, as Velvet Rope stalled out much quicker than Janet’s previous smash hits. While the album still sold over three million copies, it was feared that the public was beginning to move on from their Janet obsession.
For her part, Janet continued to remain very visible. Her world tour was once again well received, and she starred in the hit movie The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps with Eddie Murphy in 2000. The appearance also yielded a #1 soundtrack single, “Doesn’t Really Matter”, which was included on Janet’s 2001 comeback All For You. On the singles front, All For You generated four Top 40 singles, including the chart topping title track. The album was another #1 hit, but once again stalled out at the triple platinum mark.
Personal problems would also mark Janet’s first half of the decade. She went through a bitter divorce in 2001, and in 2004, a seemingly star making performance at the Super Bowl halftime show with Justin Timberlake turned into a political nightmare, introducing Janet’s pierced breast and the term “wardrobe malfunction” to the national lexicon. The incident sparked numerous apologies, from Janet to the show’s producers at MTV, as well as nationwide debate over FCC regulations and public indecency. The event dwarfed Janet’s 2005 album, Damita Jo, which was her first since her early years to yield no Top 40 singles. Though it did yield a pair of #1 R&B hits (and reach #1 on the charts on its way to a platinum certification), Janet and her boyfriend, Virgin’s urban division president Jermaine Dupri blamed the label for the poor outing. When 2006’s 20 Y.O. only managed to produce a minor Top 40 hit in “Call On Me”, both Jackson and Dupri exited and joined Island Def Jam.
In 2007, Janet starred in the movie Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married and also began work on her Island Def Jam debut. The lead single, “Feedback”, has yet to break the Top 40.
On February 26, 2008, Island Records released Discipline, the tenth album by Janet Jackson and the follow-up to 2006’s 20 Y.O.. It is also Janet’s debut for Island. Discipline is available on CD as well as digitally. International and retail bonus tracks include “Let Me Know” (UK, JAP, iTunes) and "Feedback (Ralphi Rosario Electroshok Radio Mix)" (JAP).
The Band: 7.0
Janet Jackson: vocals, executive producer
On Discipline, Janet Jackson finally seems ready to begin a new phase in her career. No, she hasn’t ditched her sexy persona (as is evident by the album cover), but she’s taken all steps necessary for that desired “fresh start”. First on the chopping block was Virgin records, who Janet rode to success and eventually apathy for the bulk of her career. Was it Virgin’s lack of promotion that has led to the lackluster sales of Janet’s last two albums? I guess here is where we find out.
Second to go was longtime producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who have been with Janet since her Control days. Island big wig L.A. Reid has stepped up in the pair’s stead, bringing in a string of big names, including Ne-Yo, the-Dream and Tricky Stewart (along with Janet’s guy Jermaine Dupri, of course). The result is a very slick album of heavy R&B, with a few big beat dance numbers to keep the party moving. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but a few tweaks that help keep things current. Finding new collaborators is key to combating staleness, after all.
As for Janet, her vocals are still as smooth and erotic as they have ever been. That breathy whisper is just as enticing and as teasingly innocent at age 41 as it was when she was in her 20’s. Janet most certainly doesn’t leave the sex to the younger girls. And we all know older women do it better.
The Songs: 6.0
1. I.D. (Interlude)
4. Spinnin (Interlude)
5. Rollercoaster (feat. Marion)
6. Bathroom Break (Interlude)
7. Rock With U
9. Can’t Be Good (feat Ne-Yo)
10. 4 Words (Interlude)
11. Never Letchu Go
12. Truth Or Dare (Interlude)
13. Greatest X
14. Good Morning Janet (Interlude)
15. So Much Betta
16. Play Selection (Interlude)
17. The 1 (feat. Missy Elliott)
18. What’s Ur Name
19. The Meaning (Interlude)
21. Back (Interlude)
Can I say that I hate “interlude” tracks? Though Janet has themed those selections here, the fact that they appear between nearly every song (there are actually only 13 real cuts here, despite the 22-track list) can get extremely distracting. Worse still is the strange futuristic vibe given tot hem, as Janet talks to some robot named Q, giving commands and talking about her personal life. Maybe we all need a Q, but I can’t imagine anyone’s conversations with it coming off as interesting. Unless it involves a blunt object to his shiny head.
That “futuristic” theme slips over into the tracks, too. “So Much Betta”, with its higher pitched and reversed vocals, is as strange as it is annoying. And while the techno-beats can be cool on cuts like the Missy Elliott colab “The 1” (“Tell me how long is it, boo?/Seven inches? That’ll do!”…subtlety is a dying art form), it mostly falls flat, as on the all tricks and no treats lead single “Feedback”, which is currently a flop at radio.
This isn’t to say Janet never gets it right on Discipline. The middle section is particularly fun, with the 1-2 dance floor punch of “Rock With U” and “2Nite” and the sweet honey of “Greatest X” rivals Janet and Mariah’s best hits of the 90’s. “LUV” and the album closer “Curtains” are also great tracks. But there’s just too much junk to sift through to get to these cuts. Hopefully Janet or Island wises up and releases these cuts as singles.
The 411: Janet Jackson’s Discipline finds her dealing a little too much with the future. Her new producers and new label were necessary to revitalize her career, but Janet’s taken us a century further, with some strange beats, a robot named Q and way too many interlude tracks. Maybe that’s how they do it in 2108, but, to paraphrase Calvin Klein/Marty McFly, I guess us guys just aren’t ready for that, yet. Still, Janet does manage to hit it out of the park on blazing dance numbers like “Rock With U” and the sex-dripping “2Nite”, and show her tender side on the sensual “Greatest X”. These cuts are worth seeking out, even if the album is a little bogged down.