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  • Muzik First


Out of the darkness and into the light. That's the journey on Janet Jackson's seventh studio album. Following the dissolution of her secretive nine-year marriage, fans might have expected Jackson to disappear into the darkness that permeated her previous release, "The Velvet Rope," in 1997. But "All For You" is filled with a surprising mix of boundless energy and feel-good joy. This is Ms. Jackson back to set dancefloors on fire and have a little fun in the process. The new sense of freedom she was feeling resulting from the breakup is evident in the music she was making and with whom she was making it. Jackson decided to spread her wings during the album's initial recording and looked further afield from her long-time production partners, the esteemed Jam & Lewis. This exploration saw her dabbling with tracks from The Neptunes, Rockwilder, and even unexpected outings with Basement Jaxx were explored. Ultimately Jackson returned to the safe space that her partnership with Jam & Lewis had always delivered, augmenting it by bringing in Rockwilder on several songs.

The result is an album that sounds like classic Janet while also stepping things up a little. Tracks like lead single "All For You" have Jackson's breezy melodies in full flight against a pounding dance that is buoyed by a healthy sampling of "The Glow of Love" by Change. Jackson is playful, provocative, and poised, as we hear elsewhere on the album. She's in command and happily relishing a return to the dating scene, flirting with the object of her seduction. Like a classic roller-skating jam, "All For You" swirls around the listener, all bright and airy, with a bounce that is hard to resist. And that's the overall tone on the rest of the album. "Come On Get Up" is a pure party joint buoyed by tribal and house elements that instantly lift spirits and packs dancefloors. Similarly, the skipping groove of the pre-release single "Doesn't Really Matter" first appearing on the soundtrack for "Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps" offers up a progression on the Janet sound with extra elements lifted from Rockwilder's initial remix of the track that steers it more into hip-hop. And the laid-back groove of "Feels So Good" shimmers like the sun of a perfect blue ocean, while the album's closer "Better Days" is a song of affirmation, drawing a line in the sand of trauma and hurt and crossing into a new beginning.

The album's standout, "Someone To Call My Lover," is a carefree riff on America's "Ventura Highway," as Jackson fantasizes about connecting with a new lover. It's all sweet and innocent, filled with promise and optimism, and it’s one of Jackson's catchiest moments on wax. It's the skip-a-long-sing-along matching of chorus and groove is packed with excitement and energy as she rolls through the lyric like a woman who can't wait for destiny to arrive. In Jackson's cooing ballads, fantasies are also well represented (though less innocent and PG than "Someone"). Bucking the trend established with her breakthrough album "Control" (1986), which would see her softer and seductive songs playing out in the final throws of the album's sequencing, Jackson mixes things up, placing them in the midpoint of the playtime. With each passing song, the seduction and explicitness increase. Like a teasing striptease, the songs unfurl from sweet and playful in "When We Oooo" to a gentle awaking of pleasure in "China Love." The passion is kicked up in the follow-up "Love Scene (Ohh Baby), which has Jackson cooing expletives that you might not even notice on the first pass over, and "Would You Mind" leaves nothing to the imagination with its raw lust and climatic build…of sorts, with Jackson lamenting that the song finished before she got to.

On "You Ain't Right," Jackson deals with broken trust and betrayal against a sharp edge, and on "Trust A Try," she sings of "pain, trickery and deceit" on a full-tilt rocker. And even on the soulful track "Truth," the conversation is a part scathing assessment of claims of influence over her agency, part self-help dealing with acceptance and moving on. The most apparent track that deals with the fallout of her marriage are the blistering "Son Of A Gun (I Betcha Think This Song Is About You)" that teams Jackson up with Carly Simon and borrows heavily from the latter's sly clap back "You're So Vain." The track is a sneer-filled strut, a reckoning delivered with the power of someone all out of f's to give. It bristles with venom and side-eye melodies against a skipped beat and bubbling synth bass—another album standout. The album debuted at number one, "All For You" is a bolder, more self-assured Jackson stepping into the possibility of new beginnings and casting off the past. Bookending the slower ballads and vengeful pop-rockers with more positive and dance-oriented tracks gives the album its overly playful and upbeat vibe. This is playful, sexy Janet, ready to have fun and relish in female empowerment.

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