Mmm...my lips hurt.

Aug 26, 2009 (Updated Aug 26, 2009)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:I don't think anybody expected this record to be so intense.

Cons:At times, Janet is too hard on herself.

The Bottom Line: Great music for a nice of S&M or self-reflection. The choice is yours.


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Here I am in your face
Tellin' truths and not your old lies
Seems to me that you care
And I know that you're runnin' out of time
See ya can't get away
I'll be here forever and again
Whisperin' in your ear
Do believe 'cause you know you cannot win

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With five pop records under her belt, a thirty year-old Janet Jackson began to feel the true effects of celebrity. As laid-back as her attitude had become throughout her relatively short (successful) singing career, she had never truly confronted the fact that aside from the fact that she was a Jackson, a member of pop royalty, she was also a megastar. Her fans were worldwide and loyal. Her songs climbed the charts release after release. Her movie was a box office smash. She was winning awards left and right, but one day, it all came crashing in on her. The result of Janet's depression was a myriad of abruptly ended recording sessions and a production that was like pulling teeth. Four years after her janet. album had the whole world on its feet dancing to its fun vibes and party beats, Ms. Jackson dropped her most personal record to date, the groundbreaking concept album The Velvet Rope, a scratchy and experimental R&B album that flirts with some of the subjects of her critically acclaimed Rhythm Nation 1814, but taking them a thousand steps further. Based around the concept of public approval, keeping face, clinical depression, and abuse, Janet Jackson's The Velvet Rope was and still is a very difficult album to sit through without cringing or wincing. Her honesty is stark and impressive, and the lyrics are blunt. Most radical is the sound of the record. The house music sound of 1993 was still popular, but she went in an entirely different direction on this album, making her latest effort sound timeless and special. Featuring dark, after-hours sounds that accompany Janet's own paranoia result in one of the best albums of the 1990s.

I slagged off Janet's interludes on her previous album, but the way they are used on The Velvet Rope only add to the brutally exhausted sound of this record. Her burnt-out delivery on some of these track is staggering and difficult to listen to. The record begins with a minor introduction similar to her other records before a distorted classical track starts to come in. Featuring performing Vanessa Mae on strings, the title-track sets the heavy and produced tone of the record, featuring some very honest lyrics that intrigue and slightly frighten the listener: "We have a special need to feel that we belong / Come with me inside / Inside my velvet rope." Don't think she's discussing sex here, though I know it's a little hard to believe. This is the beginning of a very arduous musical journey that Ms. Jackson isn't about to stop for you. You is an angry paranoid track sung from the point of view of her own conscience, and you begin to wonder just how badly this woman may have tortured herself. Does she have any confidence? She's one of the most talented and sexy performers to ever grace a recording booth, but something is missing. Janet painfully outlines it herself. As the record goes on through the motions, the messages vary. You get some nice moments, but mainly this is an introspective record that's hurt and confused. The downtempo party track Go Deep may feel light at first, but the production is very heavy for a typical pop song. The cohesive runs deep on this record. Much like Madonna did on Erotica, Janet Jackson takes a wry look at homophobia and AIDS on the tongue-in-cheek acidic dance jam Free Xone, which is what I assume snorted cocaine is like: "Boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy gets cute boy back. One rule. No rules. One love. Free xone. Let's get free!" What is Janet on? I don't know, but she's clearly losing her damn mind.


The most well-known of all the songs from The Velvet Rope is by far the sugary sweet pop song Together Again, which is an upbeat dance track well known for its unifying good mood and impressive video. As wonderful as this song is, in the wake of her brother's passing, I can't imagine her ever performing this song without him in her mind. The song is a catchy pop song with some teenybopper motifs, so it doesn't musically fit in with the rest of her repertoire, but the bittersweet message fits it rather nicely. This album also marks the beginning of some lesbian rumors when she covered Rod Stewart's Tonight's the Night, on which she did not change any of the lyrics to be tailored to a man-- in fact, she sings about her pretty dress-- "I love you, girl." One of the most touching and violent tracks is the play by play of domestic abuse. What About is a sad filled with anger and battered feelings as she screams out in pain against the man who has been cheating on her, hitting her, and emotionally mistreating her. I recently wrote a rather long account of my own personal story of partner abuse (here), and this is quite possibly the only empowering song on the matter than I think of. Her honest and passion for this track is mind-blowing as she sharply spits out lines like "What about the times you said you didn't fcuk her, she only gave you head? Huh? What about that!? What about that!?" It goes back and forth between metal-inspired and adult contemporary on the verses and bridge, as the narrator seems to struggle with herself before standing fully on her own two feet. Jackson performed the powerful song live at the Fashion Awards to critical acclaim-- a daring move to both protest domestic violence and a a joyous event and promote a song that isn't even planned as a single. But Janet Jackson was lost to her artistic vision, as her attitude darkened, sticking to her guns at any chance she could.

Every Time is my favorite Janet Jackson ballad with its pleasant melody and honest delivery. This may very well be her You Are Not Alone moment, but she does it with a hell of a lot of conviction. See!? Proof that I can like ballads! (hehe) The Velvet Rope is a confusing process with sounds and genres designed to confuse and intoxicate the listener. The abrupt changes from darkly produced hip-hop to rock to uptempo pop to downtempo jams and jazz-inspired dance tracks, the decadent feel of this 1997 album fools you into thinking that you're okay and having fun. In all actuality, the music tells the torrid tale of somebody who is rapidly losing control on themselves both emotionally and physically. In her desire to be accepted by everybody, least of which is herself, Janet Jackson confronted her fame with an album that represents an open wound. As proven by a 2006 interview on The Tyra Banks Show, though her outward image seems to have lighted up since this record, her insecurities are something she struggles with daily. It's difficult to know that one the greatest icons in music feels she's not all that attractive. I'm sure 99% of the male population would disagree with her, even if her gay fanbase would lie their heads off because we are a community that will follow female singers to the ends of the Earth.

The lower points of this record tend to hit on the latter half, with some songs beginning to strongly imitate each other. Anytime is a hodge-podge of sounds from other tracks, and the melody isn't all that convincing. The record ends similar to that of her previous album janet. in that we get one track, a pleasant piano song called Special, but then it then features a hidden track called Can't Be Stopped, which undoes any of the upbeat honest its host song does. The latter is much darker and more confrontational. It's a nice enough song, and I think it adds more than the aforementioned hodge-podge ballad. It's meant to be an empowering mid-tempo song, and it does succeed. I like the intstrumentals more than the vocal treatment, though, because they are way more interesting. It's kind of an awkward way to end this otherwise cohesive record.

VERDICT
Janet's Velvet Rope project proved to be a commercial and critically success, maintaining her hold on youth culture and keeping her in the public eye; but this time, she took a knife and cut into herself to get out some truly difficult emotions and feelings. This can be seen as another version of Rhythm Nation 1814 that, instead of the world, focuses on the problems she has within herself. Why can she inspire so many others, but rarely inspire herself? Ms. Jackson may not have proven herself in her own mind, but to millions of fans who made almost all of her albums #1 chart-toppers, she has.

01. Twisted Elegance [--]
02. The Velvet Rope (featuring Vanessa Mae) [5 Stars]
03. You [5 Stars]
04. Got 'Til It's Gone (featuring Q-Tip and Joni Mitchell) [5 Stars]

05. Speaker Phone [--]
06. My Need [4 Stars]
07. Fasten Your Seatbelts [--]
08. Go Deep [5 Stars]
09. Free Xone [5 Stars]

10. Memory [--]
11. Together Again [5 Stars]
12. Online [--]
13. Empty [3 Stars]
14. Full [--]
15. What About [5 Stars]
16. Every Time [5 Stars]

17. Tonight's the Night [4 Stars]
18. I Get Lonely [4 Stars]
19. Rope Burn [3.5 Stars]
20. Anything [2 Stars]
21. Sad [--]
22. Special [4 Stars]
23b. Can't Be Stopped [4 Stars]

BEST: What About, You
WORST:

SCORE: 4 STARS (4.2- )

--

JANET JACKSON
1982 - Janet Jackson
1984 - Dream Street
1986 - Control
1989 - Rhythm Nation 1814
1993 - janet.
1997 - The Velvet Rope


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