Picks and Pans Review: Janet
Clocking in at 75 minutes and with a mind-boggling 28 tracks (15 songs, the rest spoken vignettes), Janet is often funky and graceful but ultimately numbing and exhausting. The saving grace is the always superlative production of Jackson's long-time cohorts, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who helped elevate her from Michael's kid sister to superstar.
As they did on the multiplatinum Control (1986) and Rhythm Nation (1989), Jam and Lewis surround Jackson's thin soprano with rhythms that easily leap from extra-thumpy deep house (the generic "Throb") to rap, industrial, lounge jazz, "a quiet storm" soft ballads and bubble-gum soul. Check out how they segue Jackson from the Sade-esque sway of the smash single "That's the Way Love Goes" into the pneumatic-drill-meets-Mo-town assault of "You Want This." It's R&B heaven.
Too bad Jackson herself is the least of what's interesting. Her girlish voice adds a vulnerability that complements the softer songs, but on tough, aggressive cuts, her multilayered vocals struggle against a flood of embellishment. The centerpiece is the gloriously overblown "This Time," a dizzying Sturm-und-Drang duet with opera diva Kathleen Battle. Janet is firmly in control. Not so on "American Agenda," with Public Enemy's Chuck D. going through the motions, and Janet earnest but lost. Despite its positives, Janet is too much of a not-good-enough thing. (Virgin)