Janet Jackson: The Velvet Rope Album Review
Janet Jackson: The Velvet Rope Album Review
Top 3 Tracks: Free Xone, Together Again, What About
Velvet Rope: 8/10
Combined with the preceding interlude, this is the album’s opening thesis — everyone has a need to be accepted and understood and sometimes we do good and bad things to ourselves and others to satiate that need. The track gives a glimpse at everything the album will provide — a slick, funky beat that only Jam and Lewis can give Janet, a hint at emotional vulnerability masked as sexuality. The lyric “Come inside my velvet rope” evokes both emotional and sexual intimacy. The violin rock solo in the middle also gives off “If” vibes from her previous album.
“You” continues the theme of self-empowerment, that it all depends on you, the individual and how you deal with your issues. With the lyrics, the song could easily slide into cheesy, inspirational fare, but what makes it stand out is Janet’s staccato whisper in the verses and then her low, growling register in the bridge and chorus. It’s a new side to her usually sweet and smooth voice.
Got Til It’s Gone: 7/10
A clever sampling of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” that creates a song lamenting the loss of a lover. Is it as deep as Mitchell’s original? No, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the cool funkyness of the tune that just completely evokes that late 90’s feeling. It has the same tone as The Fugees’ “Killing Me Softly.” It’s nice, but feels a little surface level.
My Need: 7/10
Up to this point, the album has been pretty tame, but that stops at the “Speakerphone” interlude where Janet alludes to masturbating on the phone. My Need follows that up with a funky disco song where the first thing you hear vocally are moans. Jackson comes out pretty frankly that she isn’t into any romantic encounters, just straight sex, saying that she “feel(s) so tight” and “Let’s not get too soft and gentle with it/I’m not feelin’ in the mood to play around.”
Go Deep: 8/10
And if “My Need” was too subtle for you, well then, “Go Deep” should be enough to get the message across that Jackson is really horny. From the title to “I”m gettin’ freaked from behind/I don’t even mind” to “When I get him alone/I’ll make him scream and moan/He won’t wanna stop,” she is unapologetic in her sexual endeavors. What’s great about the song — and it nearly missed out on my top 3 — is that it’s all placed over such a fun, street beat which contrasts nicely with Janet’s thin, sweet vocals. It’s a fun club party song, that even towards the end turns into a girls anthem — the epitome of 2nd wave feminism in the late 90’s: ladies be gettin’ some.
Free Xone: 10/10
There’s so much to like about this song that at first listen feels more about the music than the lyrics. Jackson’s tackling of the social issue of homophobia and homosexuality all wrapped up in a fun 60’s influence pop song makes the song the 90’s version of Rhythm Nation. I love the bass in the beginning and the punchline of “That’s so not mellow” before the music really drops. You can feel the influence of the track on modern pop today and honestly, I would love to see it reworked in today’s pop landscape. It’s more relevant now than ever.
Together Again: 10/10
Of course, one of Jackson’s instant classics, probably the only song that most people will recognize on the album. As a tribute to her friends who have died from HIV/AIDS, “Together Again” is a perfect companion piece to “Free Xone.” It would have been easy for Janet to write a somber ballad about such subject matter, but instead she goes the more daring route of turning the sad into happy and hopeful, all the while drowning our sorrows in a dance beat right from the UK dance scene. It all just fits so well together and evokes more emotion than any ballad she could have done. Not to mention, this is the strongest her voice sounds on the album.
A song simultaneously about cybersex and the emotional connection that is needed between human beings in order for the physical to be truly fulfilling. The repeated phrase “I feel empty” is haunting and telling all at once. What’s great about the track is what it does towards the middle — at first meandering, the beat and vocals turn into a frenzied and harried rush to a climax that ultimately ends in “Damn, disconnected.”
What About: 9/10
The most interesting and strangest song on the record. Like “Empty” how it starts is not how the song ends up. What begins as a calm, islander mid-tempo turns into a full-force, chaotic rocking inner monologue. It’s the most provocative on the album — where a man declares his love for a woman, but in her head she keeps thinking “What about the times you said no one would want me?/What about the times you hit me in the face?/What about the times you kept on when I said no more, please?/What about the times you said you didn’t fuck her, she only gave you head?/” Jackson addresses issues of physical, emotional, sexual abuse and cheating directly without skirting around it. It’s a well-crafted and well done song that gets at the emotional vulnerability the album suggests.
Every Time: 6/10
A pretty middle-of-the-road piano ballad, especially compared to all the stellar tracks that came before it. Whereas other preceding tracks had something to pull it out of mediocrity, this one just doesn’t. About feeling afraid to fall in love because of previous relationships, it follows the album’s theme just fine and is a nice reprieve, but it doesn’t stand out on its own, let alone as a single.
Tonight’s The Night: 7/10
A creative reimagined cover of Rod Stewart’s virginity song, here all the pronouns and gender are kept intact to create a song about lesbianism. I don’t really buy Janet Jackson as a bisexual, let alone a lesbian, but it works with the brash provocative sexuality of the album and its preference for shocking sexual predilections. It does what any cover does well – turns the song on its head and gives it new meaning and new life. What comes across the most is that Janet is a chameleon. She can play nearly any role that is given to her, and at least here, it’s a good thing.
I Get Lonely: 6/10
Like Every Time, it lacks any shock value that other tracks on the album have, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing when it’s sandwiched between “Tonight’s the Night” and “Rope Burn.” This post-breakup song has a cool soul groove and has a desperate and pathetic-ness in lyrics like “Sittin’ here by the phone/Call and say that you’re okay/So that I’ll have the chance to beg you to stay.” It’s a good song, but as a single?
Rope Burn: 8/10
With the moans and the funky, frisky instrumental, the track is instantly and unforgivably sexual to a point that it’s almost comical. With the sound effects and the flourish after the lyric “rope burn” after the chorus, it knows it’s being provocative and it’s tongue-in-cheek about it. Throughout the song, Janet paints an intimate sexual scene for the listener complete with instructions to “tie her up/tie her down/take off her clothes” all while using blindfolds and candle wax. Goodness me.
As a stand alone, the track adds nothing, but viewed as a companion piece to “Rope Burn,” there’s more to it. It is the afterglow sweetness to the naughtiness that took place in the previous track. The experience isn’t complete without the two of them.
The album ends with the bookmark to “Velvet Rope.” Here, Janet talks to the listener that she knows how it feels to feel like you don’t belong and that she knows what you’re going through, which works to an extent with Janet, who comes from one of music’s strangest families. With any other singer, it probably wouldn’t feel as sincere. It’s an inspirational song that brings the album back to where it started, but noting that there is improvement to be made with the last lyric “Work in progress.” It ends the album on a happy note.
Janet Jackson’s The Velvet Rope is an album full of mostly songs that hit the mark. Even those that fall into mediocrity (Every Time, I Feel Lonely, Anything, Special) do so because the ones surrounding them are just so good. In that, there is no fault. Each track, though, is given top-notch production work and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis somehow create the most enticing and richest beats for Miss Jackson. They don’t feel complete without her voice.
For such a racy and risky album, though, they picked the safest singles that don’t really give the general public a taste of what The Velvet Rope really is. It’s dedicated to the themes of vulnerability and intimacy, be that emotional or physical. In the physical aspect, she excels (Go Deep, Rope Burn, My Need, Tonight’s the Night), which isn’t surprising given ’93’s janet. Emotionally, there are some high points (Together Again, What About), but songs like Velvet Rope, Special and You get bogged down by the generic message of just be yourself. By far, “Empty” is the one that sums up the album as a whole — that sexual intimacy is not nearly the same thing as emotional intimacy. Janet provokes us enough in the physical department, but for the most part, she lacks in the emotional one, leaving the listener feeling that maybe we haven’t gotten completely inside the velvet rope, but we have gotten a glimpse of what lies behind it.