I’ve been delving deep into Janet Jackson’s back catalogue as I eagerly await her long-delayed new album Black Diamond (now due for release in 2022).
I had ranked her albums before but I’ve changed my mind. So, here’s a new and improved look back at Janet’s musical output.
9. All For You (2001)
I know, I know; this does indeed contain the blockbuster title track and a clutch of other hit singles including Doesn’t Really Matter and Someone to Call My Lover, but as an album I just think it’s forgettable and throwaway. I have tried to like it, but it doesn’t stick. I do love the song All For You, though, which was released when I lived in Japan so it reminds me of driving around the Japanese countryside.
8. Damita Jo (2004)
One word: Superbowl. That Timberlake nipple event nearly destroyed Jackson’s career; her music and videos were blacklisted on TV and radio in America as punitive measures. She suffered more backlash than when Madonna released her Sex book, and that’s saying something. Damita Jo was completely sidelined because of it, which is a shame because this is a much more coherent and cohesive effort than its predecessor All For You. It contains the Janet classics R&B Junkie and All Nite (Don’t Stop). I must admit that I had lost interest in her music by this stage and didn’t actually listen to this album until more than a decade later.
7. Discipline (2008)
I remember feeling disappointed when I first listened to this upon its release way back in 2008; a feeling compounded by the fact that she didn’t work with Jam and Lewis on this project. However, Discipline has grown on me over the years and I love the deep grooves and dance beats of songs like Rock With U and 2Nite and the more mellow tracks such as Can’t B Good.
6. 20 y.o. (2006)
If you had told me just a few months ago that 20 y.o. would be among my favourite Janet Jacksons albums, I would have laughed in your face. It had been the one Janet album that I couldn’t even listen to all the way through because I thought it was so bad. And yet, here we are in 2021, and I happily listen to this album on my way to work. Enjoy, Show Me, Do It 2 Me and Call On Me are all standouts from this criminally overlooked smooth, RnB, dance-tinged collection. 20 y.o. is easily her most fun album.
5. janet. (1993) & janet. remixed (1995)
This was a very different Janet Jackson from the one last seen on Control and Rhythm Nation 1814. janet. is a fusion of new jack swing mixed with pop and R&B and rap and dance, and she exuded a joyful sexuality and warmth throughout (there’s even a golden glow in all of those videos which was surely a deliberate choice). The album went on to sell 14 million copies worldwide; janet. is the equivalent of a blockbuster movie that everyone went to see at the cinema, and there was even a sequel in the shape of janet. remixed, which turned out to be a surprisingly coherent collection of club mixes.
4. Unbreakable (2015)
Released a long seven years after her previous record (Discipline) this was a true return to form, and is by far her most timeless album. Highlights include the singles No Sleeep and Dammn Baby, both complete with dodgy spellings and all. The whole album feels so classy and was well worth the wait.
3. Control (1986) & Control: the remixes (1987)
What Have You Done For Me Lately, The Pleasure Principle, Control, When I Think Of You, Nasty, Let’s Wait Awhile; the album only had nine tracks and six of them were hit singles, which pretty much tells you all you need to know. Control is a Jam and Lewis masterpiece and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. This was actually Janet’s third album but so great was its significance and cultural impact that they were swiftly forgotten. Companion album Control: the remixes includes essential Shep Pettibone remixes of The Pleasure Principle, which remains one of Janet Jackson’s greatest musical moments.
2. The Velvet Rope (1997)
Experimental. Emotive. Expressive. Deep. Dark. Delicate. The Velvet Rope is probably Janet’s most layered, complex and revealing album, full of sonic textures, chewy flavours and aural delights. It’s one big vibe. Standout tracks for me are Empty and I Get Lonely.
1. Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989)
Five, Four, Three, Two, One…
A musical explosion happened in 1989; I became hungry for all kinds of music, and voraciously consumed albums as if there were no tomorrow. It felt like I bought a new album every other week, with the money I earned from doing my paper round, although in reality, I probably didn’t buy quite that many.
Previously, I hadn’t paid any attention to Janet Jackson. I knew who her brother was, of course, and was vaguely aware that her Control album existed. I had seen Control: the remixes in the bargain bin at Woolworths, but that was the extent of my knowledge of her.
Then, Miss You Much came out; I loved it, bought it, played it incessantly and eagerly anticipated the album.
I had never heard anything like it before; the pop funk, the industrial beats, the snippets of conversations between each song, the Jam and Lewis synths, the samples, the calls for social justice and the political messages within the songs themselves.
Then there were the visuals; black and white promo videos with slick choreography, and even a short film which seemed to cement Jackson as an artistic force.
This is one of the few albums that I have owned, at various times, in three different formats: the original tape that I bought, the vinyl picture disc that I won from a magazine, and then, later, the CD.
Pitchfork calls the album “a thrilling mix of social messaging and dancefloor pleasure” and it is hard to disagree with that.
In these turbulent times Rhythm Nation still sounds as relevant as ever, a rally call to work together to overturn the prejudices in this world.
With music by our side
To break the color lines
Let’s work together
To improve our way of life
Join voices in protest
To social injustice
A generation full of courage
Come forth with me
People of the world today
Are we looking for a better way of life
We are a part of the rhythm nation
People of the world unite
Strength in numbers we can get it right
We are a part of the rhythm nation
Rhythm Nation 1814 was the first Janet album I ever listened to so it will probably always be my favorite. The Velvet Rope really is a very close second, though. I wonder where Black Diamond will fit into this list when we finally get to hear it?