Janet Jackson - 20 Y.O.

2006-11-23 15:47
Jackson intros the album saying: “There’s something to be said for not saying anything...” continuing that she doesn’t want to be serious and just wants to have fun. This poses a problem: Does Jackson having fun in the studio mean we’ll have fun in our living rooms / cars/ clubs? And by “having fun” does she exclude the listener from consideration in the production?

Listening to 20 Y.O. is like delivering pizza to someone’s house and being made to look through all the family photos. It’s a peculiar feeling, having all these anecdotes and memories of all these strangers in the pictures related to you. But they ultimately don’t mean anything to you, so you really just want to collect your tip and get out of there. Same thing with 20 Y.O. As a release it’s at best patchy. And there are a few key reasons. Jermaine Dupree and Jackson have presented the artist as a throwback to herself, recapturing the energy, sound and movement of Control (1986) and even at times Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989).

It’s hard not to visualise “So Excited” or “Show Me” as a dance routine from Solid Gold (an eighties TV music show) – she famously performed her early hit “What Have You Done for Me Lately” on that show. In fact, most of the first half of the album seems to purposefully flounder in a slightly nostalgic haze, with heavily synthesized retro-dance beats dominating even Janet’s velvety, soft vocals.

As she rightly states in her intro, she’s covered a lot in 20 years. And she’s produced a lot of interesting and important RnB work in that time. But at the outset 20 Y.O. is an attempt to justify being bubblegum – as if Jackson now believes that there’s merit in emulating Cassie or Letoya or – hell, even Paris Hilton!

It does slightly improve in the second half. Jackson drops the dance act and starts to sing more, and thankfully, there’s a bit of the old Jackson style and charm on “With U” and “Take Care”. But on many other tracks that could’ve been interesting, production chose beat over brew, which I suppose reflects the schizophrenic nature of the decision to “have fun”. Sadly, for the listener, the result is disappointing.

- Anton Marshall
So, Jackson and Dupree spend a few months messing around in the studio, and figure we’d want to buy the result?

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