ARTIST OF THE MONTH: JANET JACKSON | DISIPLINE (2008)
The ’90s were Janet Jackson‘s highest career peak with hits, record-breaking sales, and sold-out tours. The ’00s started great for her, and we all know what happened after that. Yes, the Superbowl tarnished her career big time. But after two flop albums in a row, Janet Jackson ditched decided to ditch the deadwood, replacing Jam & Lewis, her collaborators of the past two decades, with a bevy of contemporary hitmakers. Norwegian duo Stargate, Rodney Jerkins (Destiny's Child), Christopher 'Tricky' Stewart ('Umbrella') and Jermaine Dupri, who twiddles Jackson's knobs at home as well as in the studio, have been charged with steering "Discipline," her tenth studio album. Ironically enough, given the title of her 1986 breakthrough, the main thing Jackson's sacrificed by drafting in the new boys is control: having co-written most of her songs for most of her career, here she bags just one songwriting credit. Despite its shortcomings, Discipline presents a once again vital Janet. Her obsession with things sexual - from the album title to the S&M-themed photos to a dropped a line here and there - is a distraction that fans have learned to put up with.
At first, Jackson's newfound fondness for hiring and firing pays off. From the sensual strut of a lead single "Feedback" to the cosmic house-pop of "Rock With U," a song that wouldn't disgrace itself as a Kylie single, "Discipline's" opening stretch is sleek, catchy and bracingly modern. These songs will sound great on the dancefloor, especially 'Rollercoaster,' a thrilling combination of bolshy, near-industrial beats and white-knuckle tempo changes, and "2Nite," which cleverly updates Jam & Lewis's "bubblegum funk" sound. Just in the nick of time, Miss-Jackson-if-you're-nasty has rediscovered her bite.
After a promising start, "Discipline" slips into the gloopy, dated sex balladry that's marred her recent career. The likes of 'Can B Good' and 'Never Letchu Go' are filled with eighties keyboard sounds and cooing harmonies, presumably in a bid to recall classic Jackson ballads like 'Come Back To Me' and "Let's Wait Awhile," but a crippling lack of melody hampers them. Worse still, Jackson's attempts to play the uber-nympho are beginning to sound very, very desperate. The title track, a creepy, Velvet rope-style bondage ballad, finds her purring: "Daddy I disobeyed you, now I want you to come and punish me," while 'Curtains,' on which Jackson fantasizes about bedding one of her fans, features a stream of double entendres that would shame Julian Clary. "I promise you, you'll be screamin' encore when I'm through," she vows, desperately trying to suppress a wink.
"Discipline" would unfortunately not mitigate Jackson's commercial and critical problems. These woes were owed mainly to the fact that Jackson had aged out of the mainstream consciousness, a transition hastened in the wake of the Super Bowl crisis years earlier. "Discipline" was arguably Jackson's most significant singles vehicle to date. The collection spun off four singles—“Feedback,” “Rock with U,” “Luv,” and “Can't B Good”—and each serviced every facet of Jackson's base: dance, crossover pop, mainstream and adult R&B. It was confirmation that the quality of Jackson's output had not diminished. Although "Discipline's" is usually remembered for Jackson briefly stepping away from her principal songwriting/production duties, a closer inspection finds that she retained her characteristic level of creative “control” in guiding those assembled to realize her vision of that classic Janet Jackson sound with a modern twist.