CD Review: Janet Jackson – Number Ones

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Janet Jackson’s impressive catalog of albums have gone gold or platinum many times over, she was a trail-blazer for R&B, rap and pop’s coalition – along with awe inspiring choreography by Paula Abdul, she virtually invented the dance video as we know it today. All of this after getting out from under the thumb of her father and first manager, Joe Jackson. A look back at Jackson’s storied career provides more than ample reason for her being one of the world’s most recognizable people.

Number Ones opens with a string of Jackson’s best and most memorable tracks. “What Have You Done For Me Lately”, “Nasty”, “Control”, “Miss You Much” and perhaps her finest single, “Rhythm Nation” are all included. Early on in her career her music and lyrics seem fueled by a desire to break from her over-achieving musical family and we are left with the impression Jackson wanted to attain her celebrity status without help and on her own terms. In their 50th anniversary issue, Billboard magazine ranked her at number 7 on their “Hot 100 All-Time Artists”, ultimately proving that her goal had been achieved. And right away, with the release of her third alum, “Control”, we hear why. Her early lyrics show a strong woman, fully in charge and she’s not about to relinquish power.

The 90s didn’t see Jackson backing down. The release of two albums, “Janet” and “The Velvet Rope”, kept her on top of the pop and R&B charts. “That’s the way love goes”, “Together again”, “If”, and “Again” were all huge singles for Jackson. The 90’s also brought a manner of sophistication to Jackson’s music, unheard previously. Her lyrics are infused with a sense of introspection and loss while still retaining the sex and nastiness found on her early albums. In fact, it is in the 90’s that Jackson becomes a global sex symbol, helped by the myriad of scantily clad photos found on her album art, magazine covers and candid shots.

In the last decade, Jackson has provided fans with four more studio offerings. After a career of carving out paths for such artist as Jennifer Lopez, Missy Elliot, Brittney Spears and Beyonce Knowles, among many others, creating a new sound for popular R&B, Jackson inevitably fell into her own cookie cutter mold. While new artist came and went, Jackson stuck with her own tried and true formula, appeasing her millions of fans. Not much new came from her last few albums, with the exception of songs like “All for you”, “Doesn’t really matter” and “Scream”. The leftovers amount to a load of radio friendly, overly produced material, riddled with guest vocals, attributes that look great to a record labels’ bottom line but not to anyone wanting more from their music.

Not to say that Janet Jackson doesn’t deserve to sell records but after so many millions couldn’t she have just called it a day? Do we need this retrospective? To be honest, I’m not quite sure. It may be something that her fans will have to decide.