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Friday
Feb222008

All of you… and you… and you… janet jackson gets it her way

Janet Jackson, queen of urban pop and churning club cremes, works a stealth oeuvre: confessional singer/songwriter. While Joni Mitchell and Alannis Morrisette, Fiona Apple and Patti Smith probed their lives for all, sorting their psyches and offering listeners' insight in the deal, Janet Jackson built a temple on taut abs, rubber beats and the throbbing pulse of now culture.

Whereas Mitchell's pasture is organic madonna-with-guitar, Smith yoked rock rage with the intense passions of a woman denied. Latter day introspectors Apple and Morrisette captured the anger of sublimation, kicking out the jams when faced with expectations so their catharsis allowed gentler, kinder, more open spaces to emerge towards.

For Jackson, whose field of dreams is dance music by any name, it's hard to assign that temerity. What, truly, is more disposable than club culture? Even its dowager empress is known as much for her look and her life as her music: when was the last time the life message of Madonna's music prompted discussion.

So Janet Jackson, the original Fly Girl, who was launching libidinal voyages long before J-Lo got back, never gets her props on this level. Which is a shame, because her Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis couplings have often married the expendable with the kind of depth that enriches without stridently preaching. It's the old spoonful of sugar, if you will, getting some thought into those empty, feel-good calories.

On All For You, Jackson -- who's already dealt with the under-the-thumb pressure of public perception and parental strictures on Control, social commentary on Rhythm Nation, sexual pleasure and politics on The Velvet Rope and acceptance on janet. -- mines the public wreckage of her secret marriage to longtime "companion" Rene Elizondo on two planes. She deals straight-on with the perpetrator and offers the sexual emergence torture of moving on in graphic detail.

The tongue lashings bought and paid for by his betrayal of her privacy land right on the jugular. When Miss Jackson bites into the brutal, bitter "Truth" she flaunts the facts, taunts with the most incontrovertible reality: "I had a career before now didn't I/ And I had my fans now, didn't I…Won't trip out on disappointment/'Cause failure's just not me/ Still I gotta do my job/ 'Cause you know my show can't go on without me." Check your testicles at the door, my man -- and slink away quietly, because there's more honey-coated castration where that came from.

Then there are the in-your-face na-Na-na-Na-NAH tauntings of a woman determined to throw her "it-ain't-your's-anymore" in the cad's face. When she whisper/writhes through the back-to-back "Love Scene (Oooh Baby)" and "Would You Mind" it's as full-frontal as Prince, yet that little girl-voice takes on a good fairy-meets-Barry-White or -Teddy Pendergrass sexuality. The eroitica is raw. It digs deeper. It brings you in…and, well…

But this isn't a rage-and-pity-party with samples and loops and French Ticklers. Ultimately this is the ultimate survivor. All For You -- with its fresh-faced confection to that "nice package alright" first single boasting an infectious sample of Change's "The Glow of Love" -- sets the tone for a woman intent on enjoying her freedom.

It's also more than a mad-grab for a piece-and-a-smile. While Janet's looking to get her's, she's also seeking deeper, lasting love. Wiser personally, she knows one doesn't necessarily fall with the other. Instead she'll shoot a little hedonism and enjoy the search.

If only all the music connected thusly. Her "Black Cat" metal-merger is the ghosts-in-his-machine warning "Trust A Try" and it's fine, not lethal. The other samples and guestings stumble - Carly Simon should not believe she's a funky diva ever (sinking the awkward "You're So Vain" redux "Son of a Gun" rhythmically, spiritually and even conceptually), nor should America ever be invoked in a looking for Mr Forever or even Mr Tonight as they are on "Someone To Call My Lover" (a syncopated expansion of "Ventura Highway" suggests tight-assed WASP gropings, not the hot sex our diva requires).

The salvaged conversation snips break intensity. But she concludes reaching for something as "Better Days" offers hope. Not a reason to boogie or get nasty, but the conviction to keep moving. Which suffices 'til she's ready to rompy pompy again.

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