Janet Jackson - The Velvet Rope (Deluxe Edition) Music Album Reviews

Janet Jackson - The Velvet Rope (Deluxe Edition) Music Album Reviews
After three blockbuster albums, the megastar turned introspective, plumbing the depths of depression. Considered a disappointment at the time, it’s become one of her most beloved LPs.

You don’t typically stand outside an actual velvet rope unless you have a pretty good idea that what’s past it is worth the wait. Listeners went into Janet Jackson’s sixth album, 1997’s The Velvet Rope, eager to breach the facade Jackson had put up in public for decades. Behind her fixed grin, so broad she compared it to the Joker’s, was pain. Have at it, went the messaging.

The three preceding albums (all blockbusters) that Jackson cut with former Time members Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis—1986’s Control, 1989’s Rhythm Nation 1814, and 1993’s janet.—were all bold statements. They said FAMILIAL INDEPENDENCE, SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS, and SEXUAL LIBERATION, respectively. The Velvet Rope was no less conceptual, but its statement was more like a testimony, as its concept concerned introspection. On the title track, the album’s first song, she invites listeners “behind my velvet rope” to take a look inside her mind. “I needed to do this album for myself, for people to know what was going on with me,” she told the Washington Post in 1998.

Twenty-five years after its release, the culture seems more amenable to Jackson’s invitation than ever. And so Jackson and Virgin are offering more Rope, having recently released a deluxe edition of the album commemorating its silver anniversary that contains B-sides and a slew of remixes from the era. It all sounds fresh for something a quarter century old, thanks in part to the resurgence of retro-leaning house music in contemporary pop and Jackson’s refusal to chase trends (the closest the record comes is a slight dusting of skittery Timbaland influence on some of its syncopated percussion).

The Velvet Rope’s apparent influence has been referenced enough that the album represents a standard for maturation in pop stardom. It is frequently cited by fans as their favorite Janet record. At the time of its release, though, it was a relative disappointment—its U.S. sales were just half of janet.’s six million copies. That was bad news for Virgin, which had just re-signed Jackson for $80 million, the largest record deal at the time.

Today, the album can be approached without the constrictors of expectation that a megadeal brings. Its artistry can be taken on its own terms, but it’s important to remember just how brazen it was at the time for Jackson to release a frequently downcast album working through depression—one that had few obvious singles on it. The chill on The Velvet Rope’s first single was audacious. “Got ’Til It’s Gone,” featuring Q-Tip, was not a smash. In a retrospective interview with The Boombox, Jam described pop radio’s shunning of “Gone” as a “surprise” but chalked up the icy reception to the Afrocentrism of the accompanying video, which depicts apartheid-era South Africa and features Jackson with her iconic natural, asymmetrical ’do.

Jackson described The Velvet Rope as her “most personal” album, and in ensuing coverage, it was compared to the work of Joni Mitchell, whom Jackson asked personally for the right to sample “Big Yellow Taxi” on “Gone.” (The notoriously cantankerous Mitchell agreed, perhaps because years before, Jackson had praised Mitchell’s Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm in an interview—the album’s “best review,” according to Mitchell.) On The Velvet Rope, Jackson sometimes holds herself accountable with a grasp as tight as Mitchell’s but she generally paints with broader strokes. She gets lonely. She feels empty. She’s scared to fall in love. It’s as though Jackson took to heart what Kris Kristofferson told Mitchell after hearing Blue: “Joni, keep something to yourself.” The overall effect, much like Mary J. Blige’s 1994 classic My Life, conveyed real pain while leaving enough space for listeners to slide their own experiences between Jackson’s words. It’s a pop approach to soul-bearing, optimized for consumption. Jackson ponders the human need to feel special repeatedly on The Velvet Rope—though doing so as a celebrity on a much-hyped album is tantamount to pop-star existentialism, Jackson assumes the same status as her listeners for most of the album. That is, until the final interlude, “Sad,” in which Jackson murmurs, “There’s nothing more depressing than having everything and still feeling sad.” It’s certainly ironic, but having nothing and still feeling sad is undoubtedly more depressing.

On The Velvet Rope, Jackson’s then-secret husband René Elizondo Jr. received his first songwriting credits, though Jackson told Rolling Stone in 1998 that he’d been a co-writer on “almost all my songs since Rhythm Nation.” She nonetheless kept up the velvet rope around their marriage, which wouldn’t be confirmed publicly until the announcement of their divorce in 2000. (The Velvet Rope was their last full-length collab.) And though Jackson revealed all sorts of would-be private matters during the album’s promotion—taking coffee enemas to clear “sad cells,” a nipple piercing, her tattoo of Minnie Mouse giving Mickey a blowjob visible on the November 1997 cover of Vibe—there was “one incident” that occurred when she was four and a half years old responsible for some of the trauma exorcized on The Velvet Rope that she refused to detail. This era was not a confessional free-for-all. It was considered, modulated, art-directed revelation. The stakes were clear, though, especially when it came to the further sexual exploration that began on janet. In the words of Ayanna Dozier, who wrote the 2020 33 1/3 book on The Velvet Rope: “There is great power in Janet using her status as a Black popular artist to openly trouble our social interpretation of Black women’s sexuality and the respectable images that informed what images of Black womanhood were acceptable in the late 1990s and early 2000s.”

There’s a near military precision—like that which influenced Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 aesthetic—to the task of probing Jackson’s mind. As much as The Velvet Rope is a departure, it is very much a Janet Jackson album—kaleidoscopic in its range, stitched together with interludes, perfectly tailored for her small and sweet voice. So much of what goes on is all in her narrators’ heads—she forges a relationship with an internet stranger on the frenetic “Empty,” replays abuse on the furious “What About,” looks back in regret at a halted relationship in “Got ’Til It’s Gone.” Before she gets tied up, blindfolded, and anointed with hot candle wax in “Rope Burn,” she’s “Lyin’ here wearin’/Just my imagination for you.” The production can be effectively blunt. “Empty” is full of clattering percussion—it was often labeled as jungle-inflected at the time, but it’s clearly a precursor to footwork from today’s perspective—and “I Get Lonely” is sparse until its blaring chorus.

The Velvet Rope is plainspoken but not without nuance. The slow jam “Anything,” which features exhaling synths that recall quiet-storm chestnut “Moments in Love,” by Art of Noise, lines up a litany of demands (“Hold me/Kiss me/Show me/You wanna be with me…”) before getting to the point and submitting: “I will do anything/You ask me to/Anything/Anything.” It’s not merely an anthem fit for a bottom (as Jackson has said she is)—it’s a bossy bottom anthem. With a handful of words, Jackson illustrates the complexity within even the most seemingly straightforward sexual power dynamics. The message of “Together Again”—“You don’t have to hold on to the pain to hold on to the memory,” as recited in the preceding “Memory” interlude—plays like the product of enlightenment after deep processing of grief. It’s almost easy to overlook the tragedies that inspired it—perhaps the single most joyous piece of (commercial) art about AIDS, which killed several of Jackson’s friends—and get lost in the stomping, radio-friendly beats, intentionally recalling the music Jackson heard at Studio 54 as a child. Sonically, it’s the most bubblegum moment on the album, but as an expression of hefty introspection, it more than earns its place. And if that’s not Diana Ross-y enough for you, there’s “My Need,” which is based on a muddied sample of “Love Hangover” simmering in hi-hats.

Whereas Rhythm Nation and janet. both addressed racism explicitly, The Velvet Rope, self-consciously edgy as it was, took on homophobia in “Free Xone,” a rave-up in the half-song/half-track tradition of janet.’s “Throb.” The sound is somewhere between “Housequake” and “Batdance” as Jackson sets a scenario in which a guy is shunned for his sexuality (“That’s so not mellow,” she mutters, upholding the inherent values of the regularly chill Velvet Rope and referencing the Archie Bell & the Drells sample at hand). But Jackson spends most of the song’s time rhapsodizing a “free xone” with “no rules” and “one love.” “Free Xone” is more invested in imagining utopia than complaining about social ills. Also, quite controversially, she kept some of Rod Stewart’s gender specificity intact in her gently bumping cover of “Tonight’s the Night” (“’Cause I love you girl,” she sings as he did), leading many in the press to speculate if this marked a coming-out. MTV asked if it bothered her that the pro-queer sentiment might alienate some listeners and Jackson responded with a shrug: “Not everyone is going to like me and not everyone does and I understand that.” Having the biggest record deal on the planet was not a reason to avoid risks—it was a reason to take them.

The original album only tells some of the full story, though. Included in the deluxe reissue is vital ephemera, including the heavily played “TNT Remix Edit” of “I Get Lonely,” featuring Blackstreet. As Teddy Riley, the most influential producer of early ’90s R&B, worked on it with Timbaland, the most influential producer of late ’90s R&B, the skittering fast-slow rerub represents a formal passing of the baton. Historic. Also included is the “Jimmy Jam Deeper Remix” of “Together Again,” which reimagines the song as a ballad (as it was reportedly conceived initially). The “Ummah Jay Dee’s Revenge Mix” of “Got ’Til It’s Gone” puts the song in the hands of Dilla, whose remix of the Brand New Heavies’ “Sometimes” inspired Jackson’s original. He outfits Jackson in some woozy harmonic work, nudging the song into more avant-garde territory.

The included house mixes are a who’s who of ’90s major-label remixers with underground roots—Frankie Knuckles, David Morales, Armand Van Helden, Masters at Work, Tony Humphries, Tony Moran, Jason Nevins—that indicate the unlikely club reach of The Velvet Rope. Via these pepped-up revisions, the self-consciously mellow album’s first four singles all went Top 10 on Billboard’s club play chart, with two of them (“Together Again” and “Go Deep”) hitting No. 1. By not including the Roni Size remix of “Go Deep,” though, the set forfeits the opportunity to draw a line from Janet’s filtration with drum’n’bass to the contemporary mumble jungle represented by the likes of PinkPantheress. Oh well, find it on YouTube.

The Velvet Rope’s press cycle was uncommonly long, and as it went on, people wrote and wrote about its relatively disappointing chart performance. The dek on David Ritz’s 1998 Rolling Stone piece read: “After being told her album was a flop and her tour was a bust, she did what she knows best—she worked harder.” The ensuing tour, directed by Jackson herself, was credited as pulling the era together (rumors of its bust, according to Ritz, were greatly exaggerated). The two-hour show was nonstop spectacle, a blur of Jackson’s hits and outlandish costumes that found The Velvet Rope material perfectly integrated into her catalog. If anything, the album’s songs rounded out the taste profile with some sour.

To hear Jam tell it, no one at Virgin pushed back on the relatively difficult material. “They loved the record. They knew it was gonna be tough to get, but they really championed it,” he told The Boombox. Its creation alone meant success for Jackson, who reported that she had purged demons through her art. “I never liked myself before. I hated myself. I can honestly say that I like myself now,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1998. Incidentally, “Got ’Til It’s Gone,” the supposed flop first single, is now one of her most played songs on Spotify, with 75 million streams. It has more listens than most of her No. 1 singles. This suggests that it’s not that she picked the wrong song to lead the album, it’s that the whole creative venture was ahead of its time. We’re still catching up.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Janet Jackson - The Velvet Rope (Deluxe Edition) Music Album Reviews Janet Jackson - The Velvet Rope (Deluxe Edition) Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on October 22, 2022 Rating: 5


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