Janet Jackson, 'janet.': Classic Track-By-Track Review
Which of 'janet.''s 28 tracks (there's a lot of interludes) has endured the most? Read on for our classic track-by-track review.
"Control" may have been her breakout, and "Rhythm Nation 1814" her breakthrough with a whopping seven singles reaching the top 5 of the Hot 100 (the only album to do so.) But Janet Jackson's "janet.," which turns 20 on May 18, may be her real creative triumph.
Released the day after Jackson's 27th birthday, "janet." finds the singer fully embracing her womanhood and sexuality in ways she barely touched upon on previous releases. Gone was the chaste teenager who sang "Let's Wait Awhile," and in her place was a woman who wanted to get it on in public and "boom boom boom until noon noon noon," as she memorably purrs on "Throb." Released seven months after Madonna's "Erotica," "janet." arrived at a time where female pop stars were just beginning to put sex front and center in their image (the cover of "janet." was a cropped shot of her infamous topless "Rolling Stone" cover) as well as their pop songs, and with often thrilling results.
Produced largely by longtime collaborators Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, "janet." is both a product of its era (the New Jack Swing sound of the early 90s infiltrates its way into singles like "Because of Love" and "You Want This") and utterly timeless (Kendrick Lamar's recent top 30 hit "Poetic Justice" is not only built around Janet's "Any Time Any Place," its title is of course a reference to her title role in John Singleton movie, also released in 1993.) It was also one of the first major pop albums to incorporate between-song spoken-word interludes, a practice that has now become commonplace on R&B and hip-hop albums ranging from "CrazySexyCool" and "The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill" to, more recently, Lamar's own "Good Kidd M.A.A.D. City."
Other musical references to "janet." have been popping up all over the indie circuit in the past year alone, from How To Dress Well's sincere, stripped-down cover of "Again" to Moon Boots' "If"-sampling "Sugar" to British singer MNEK's reverent cover of "That's The Way Love Goes." And beyond "janet.," the Jam/Lewis Minneapolis sound has been revived quite a bit on new record from The-Dream to Inc. to recent Mad Decent signing LIZ, whose single "XTC" all but lifts the synths from the "Rhythm Nation" era.
Jackson herself has been quiet on the music front in recent years, with 2008's "Discipline" already a distant memory with only one charting single and only a handful of tracks released in the years since (2009's "Make Me," 2010's "Nothing.") In a March 2012 interview with That Grape Juice, Jackson indicated she would be spending last summer putting together a new album. But any progress seems to have been shelved for the time being after she secretly married Wissam Al Mana.
"Janet." has sold 7.04 million copies to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and spawned 6 Hot 100 hits, all of which made the top 10, and two all the way to number one — "That's The Way Love Goes" (eight weeks) and "Again" (two weeks.) Two B-sides from the project, "70s Love Groove" and "And On & On," were included on the singles for "You Want This" and "Any Time, Any Place," respectively.
Which of "janet."'s 28 tracks (there's a lot of interludes) has endured the most? Read on for our classic track-by-track review.
Setting the tone for Janet's most intimate album to date, this 31-second intro puts it out there straight out the gate. "We had the kind of night where morning comes too soon / we used the light from a flickering candle across the room," Janet says in a near-whisper, "to make the kind of shadows that only one thing could make. Love."
2. "That's The Way Love Goes"
That indelible refrain: "Like a moth to the flame / burned by the fire / my love is blind / can't you see my desire?" That slinky Jam & Lewis beat. Even at 20 years old, this Janet jam can still ignite any house party, much like the one in its music video. Janet leaves the flirting to the kids and instead lets her guard down for her lover ("Come closer baby closer / reach out and feel my body.")
3. "You Know."
Another interlude, this one even more direct. [ding dong] "You know you want me."
4. "You Want This"
One of the few places where "janet." finds Jam & Lewis keeping up with the genre trends of the time, but with a generous hat tip to the past — Diana Ross & The Supremes' "Love Child" is memorably sampled in the intro, and Jackson channels The Isley Brothers on the outro ("just a little bit louder now / a little bit softer now"). Another come-hither track that shows Jackson calling the shots, rather than waiting for a man's permission. And in the video, another chance to show off her bangin' body (http://vimeo.com/52891371).
5. "Be A Good Boy" (Interlude)
As in, "Be a good boy and put this on." There's a lot of sex on "janet.," but she makes it known here that it's all safe.
Another Supremes sample, this time the strings from "Someday We'll Be Together," anchors the climax of this rockin' dance track, which is perhaps more inseparable from its iconic music video than any of "janet."'s other singles based on its head-slapping choreography. Though Jackson lets her mind race with naughty thoughts ("You on the rise as you're touchin' my thighs / And let me know what you like if you like I'll go / Down down down down da down down"), she ultimately stops herself from going after someone else's man ("But I'm not / so I can't / then I won't / But if I was your girl.")
7. "Back" (Interlude)
Enough with the sex for a moment. "I'm giving you back," Janet growls.
8. "This Time"
Featuring vocals from opera singer Kathleen Battle, things take a dramatic return on "This Time," a break-up anthem that finds Janet kissing off an ex a la "Black Cat." But this track has even more ambitions than the "Rhythm Nation" rock song, stretching out to nearly seven minutes with suites of swirling strings and ghostly warbles from Battle as Jackson sings the chorus with increased urgency. "You're dismissed," she finally sniffs at the end.
9. "Go On Miss Janet" (Interlude)
Things are about to get "Nasty," only this time Janet's the one serving all the filth.
No need for metaphors here. "I can feel your body / pressed against my body / Wrap yourself around me / Love to feel you throbbing," Janet sings amid heavy moans, C&C Music Factory-esque beats and an infectious sax loop. If the production sounds a little dated now, the overtly sexual vibes on this track are pretty timeless – and still risqué for the early 90s. Famed remixer Peter Rauhofer still likes "Throb" so much, he issued a special 2013 remix on Valentine's Day.
11. "What'll I Do"
Janet travels from the 90s to the 70s on this throwback, guitar-driven funk track — "janet."'s sole non-Jam & Lewis cut (it was produced by Jellybean Johnson.) Much like "Black Cat," which took the singer out of her known comfort zones, "What'll I Do" is the sound of Janet doing her best James Brown impression with a live band in an intimate club somewhere in the Twin Cities.
12. "The Lounge" (Interlude)
Some muffled applause for Janet's stylistic bravery.
13. "Funky Big Band"
Sounding almost like a holdover from the 1940s vibes of "Rhythm Nation"'s "Alright," "Funky Big Band" shifts the settings from Minneapolis to Harlem on this tribute to famed jazz club Lennox Lounge. "Got to be real," Janet advises. "He who knows it feels it."
Time to get topical. "And to a world sick with racism, get well soon."
15. "New Agenda"
Featuring guest raps from Chuck D, Janet shows she hasn't abandoned her political leanings. "Because of my agenda / I've heard no too many times / Because of my race / I've heard no too many times," Janet sings. Though Public Enemy was releasing some of the most hot-button raps at the time, Chuck D plays things relatively safe, largely asking people "to step it up, step it up" and "give it a little bit" to pay respect for "all that we've been through."
16. "Love Part 2" (Interlude)
"That's The Way Love Goes" in reverse.
17. "Because Of Love"
A song as effortlessly sweet as Janet's famous smile, "Because of Love" celebrates romance outside the bedroom. Diana Ross isn't directly sampled here as she is on other tracks, but the spirit of the Supremes is heavily felt on this upbeat track.
18. "Wind" (Interlude)
A transitional breeze before it's time to get sentimental.
"What you're getting is not a report of a feeling, but a sonic presentation of the feeling." That's what How To Dress Well's Tom Krell told Billboard in March of "Again," a song he's covered both on record and at live shows for its honest portrayal of emotions in real time. "I love Tevin Campbell, I love Montell Jordan, but I would never cover ‘This Is How We Do It' or ‘No Diggity' or whatever. Those are jams and if they come on at a party at 3 a.m. I'm gonna be shamelessly stoked, but they don't do what this song does." By the time Jackson pleas at the song's close, seemingly choking back tears, "Cause I've fallen in love with you again," it's hard not to get misty even after countless listens.
20. "Another Lover" (Interlude)
"I would sooner grow old all alone than to ever have another lover," Jackson vows.
21. "Where Are You Now"
"I was too young to understand my love / But now I realize my mistake," Janet sings on this quiet-storm R&B cut, which some could interpret as an ode to her first, short-lived marriage to singer James DeBarge from 1984 to 1985.
22. "Hold On Baby" (Interlude)
Janet's taken a break from sex talk for awhile, but get ready – there's more.
23. "The Body That Loves You"
Modern flourishes of bossa nova permeate this gentle ballad, on which Janet promises a lover who's on the road, "Love / Sensual, physical love / is waiting here for you."
24. "Rain" (Interlude)
There's a quiet storm a-brewin'...
25. "Any Time, Any Place"
Radio favored the abbreviated R. Kelly remix of this oh-so-sexy slow jam (shown above), but the seven-and-a-half minute original is a stone-cold classic. Janet would go on to write way too many TMI songs about sex in the albums after "janet.," but this sax-and-fingersnaps ballad leaves just enough to the imagination to still be sweetly romantic — even if she "don't care who's around" during her public lovemaking.
26. "Are You Still Up" (Interlude)
Looks like someone's ready for one more round. It's still raining outside, but Janet's got her own ideas on how to stay entertained indoors.
27. "Sweet Dreams" (Interlude)
And now, time for bed.
28. "Whoops Now" (Hidden Bonus Track)
The unofficial sequel to "Escapade," "Whoops Now" is a bubbly, near-throwaway track about playing hooky to take a group vacay to Anguilla. "It makes no difference if you love work or not / If you dream your weekend / hand on the doorknob / Out with your friends / fun in the sun / And that's when the phone rings," she says, "Next time he calls he'll hear my voice / saying loud and clear / Whoops now sorry I can't go."