Janet Jackson Lets You Behind Her Personal Velvet Rope On Her Sixth Album

The Velvet Rope by Janet Jackson

The Velvet Rope was Janet Jackson's sixth studio album and the fourth since her 1986 breakthrough, Control). All of her adult-era albums had been tied around a sort of loose theme, and Rope explores the inner psyche of Janet Jackson. The singer revealed to the public around this time that she had suffered from depression and the lyrics to some of the songs on this album reflected that. Whether this was the actual truth or it sounded like a good marketing strategy in the waning days of grunge is unclear, but what is clear is that Rope is Janet's most daring album, and ultimately one of her most satisfying.

Producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis are still on board, as is soon-to-be-estranged husband Rene Elizondo, who receives co-writing credit for many of these songs. Some of the songs fall into icky new-age mumbo-jumbo ("we must learn to water our spiritual garden", Janet mumbles on one track), but most of the album contains grooves so hard-hitting that you'll forget about the sometimes questionable lyrics.

As with 1993's Janet, this album succeeds in tying together a multitude of different sounds. Janet tries her hand at harder-edged hip-hop with Got Til It's Gone (which features a rap from Q-Tip and a prominent sample of Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi), then detours into retro-disco with the sunny Together Again, a song dedicated to all the friends she'd lost to AIDS. Janet takes a prophetic stab at the coldness of online relationships on the electro-ballad Empty, decides to not change the gender of the target of her seduction on her mind-fuck cover of Rod Stewart's Tonight's The Night and talks tough as a domestic abuse survivor on the angry rocker What About.

There's an experimental feel on this album that results in some great music, but it also fails on occasion. Free Xone is well intentioned (it's a song about homophobia), but it sounds like it was created specifically to be "art-y" and as such winds up being one of the set's weaker tracks. The closing set of ballads (a Janet trademark since Control) doesn't have the same fire as usual either, and they wind up bringing what is otherwise an excellent Janet album down a notch.

Still, The Velvet Rope, while probably being the most difficult listen of Janet's career, is also probably her most mature artistic statement. Although it's a bit long, it's a fairly enjoyable listen and is recommended to any fan of cutting-edge pop or R&B.

--M. Heyliger

Amie available September 2008