Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Collectibles #10: Janet Jackson 20 Y.O. (2006)

Pictured above is the deluxe edition of Janet's new album, 20 Y.O. And I would say that it's quite luxurious and worth the moolah even though it cost me $42.95 at HMV.

Encased in a gold box, the package contains a 48-page booklet and a bonus DVD. The booklet contains quite a lot of nice pics and the design and layout is quite good. The DVD contains dancer auditions, candid interviews with Janet and the making of the Call On Me music video.

I've listened to the album at least once everyday since I had it and overall I feel it's a different sound for Janet. The first half of the album is definitely more hip-hop/RnB skewed, and that's largely due to the influence of Jermaine Dupri.

Album opener So Excited isn't half bad, but somehow it isn't getting the radio airplay it deserves. The video for the song is also quite been-there-done-that, as it is set in a subway station and the look is very similar to her previous vid for All Nite (Don't Stop).

Show Me follows next, and it is a very current RnB-sounding song. Sounds like what Cassie or Kelis would do. I didn't really like the part where she starts singing "S-H-O, ME, ME" and "Can you B-A-C-K-I-T-U-P-BOY, U-P BOY?" cos I felt it was a bit like she was running out of ideas and added in that section.

But then I thought it could be a reference to her older song Miss You Much, where she sings "I miss you much, M-I-S-S you much", the whole spelling thing. But that song was from Rhythm Nation, not Control, which this album is supposed to be a reference to. So...I'm inconclusive.

Third track is Get It Out Me, featuring a tabla part at the beginning. It's also very comtemporary and should be released as a single. Janet's vocals here alternate between raspy and hard-hitting, and it doesn't sound like her at times. The breakdown part is quite exciting, and I can sort of visualise that section being performed on stage. But what's with the bad grammar? Shouldn't it be "get it out of me"?

Do It 2 Me is next, and it contains a sly reference to her older song, I Get Lonely, from The Velvet Rope album. Out of the "hot" dancy tracks, this is my favourite. The beginning sounds like a Kanye West song, and that isn't a bad thing. There's also the guest turn by Dupri at the beginning, but luckily he doesn't turn up anywhere else. I like the beat of the song and I think it should be released as a single. Once again, Janet doesn't sound like herself at the chorus.

This Body follows, and it has been described by many as a slower version of Black Cat, which is from the Rhythm Nation album again. Whatever happened to 20 Y.O. being a reference to Control?! This song takes some time getting used to, as I rank Black Cat as one of my fave Janet tracks, and this "slow strut" doesn't quite have the same energy and raw power of Black Cat. But it does grab you slowly.

After the high energy display of the first five tracks, the album takes a turn for a more laid back approach from here.

With U is described by Dupri as a "bonafide smash". I'm not very sure about that, but it's fits into the current RnB radio soundscape. However, it runs at the risk of being overly familiar. The signature Dupri drum beat is here -- go listen to We Belong Together by Mariah Carey for further reference. The melody is quite soothing and nice, but it's just that -- pleasant, but not mind-blowing like We Belong Together. I guess Mariah's vocals are on another level and we shouldn't really compare them here.

This is followed by lead single Call On Me, featuring Nelly. The Dupri drum sound is evident again, but it resembles Burn by Usher more closely this time. Well, many have said Call On Me isn't a great first single, but I think it's a slow-burner. It does grow one me and it's one of my favourite tracks on this album. It hit #1 on the Billboard RnB charts and is doing quite well still.

We now enter Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis production territory, as the first seven tracks were mainly handled by Dupri. Daybreak's intro evokes memories of Escapade (once more from Rhythm Nation), and it is an upbeat, happy tune. Nothing serious here, but I feel that the arrangement can be vastly improved. The chorus musical arrangement is way too sparse and doesn't bring the sound to another level. The drum beat for the whole song is THE SAME. I expected better from Jimmy and Terry.

Up nest is undoubtedly the best cut in the album. Enjoy is happy, carefree Janet at her most relaxed and comfortable, and it shows through her vocals. The bassline is a killer, and the melody never fails to bring a smile to my face. It doesn't hurt that there are the cutesy voices of children at the last chorus, and we hear Janet's signature laugh once again. Enjoy HAS to be released as a single. The public NEEDS to hear it!

Like all Janet albums, as we enter the home run stretch, we'll have the slow-burners/sensual/baby-making songs. I'm not a lyrics person, so I shall not analyse the lyrical content.

Take Care is touted as a sequel to Let's Wait Awhile (from Control at last!), and it sounds a little like Twenty Foreplay as well. Janet coos in her soft, sensual voice and it works here. Like some Janet fans have said, this is a "fans" song, where radio might not appreciate but the fans do. I agree.

The album closes with Love 2 Love, a clunky, slow song that I haven't heard that many times. It's ok I guess, but not really my thing.

In all, 20 Y.O. (aka 20 Years Old) doesn't quite live up to the expectations of being a throwback to Control, released 20 years ago. I guess the bar has been set too high and it's unrealistic to emulate the sound of an album that was released so long ago, given the current musical landscape.

The album isn't an instant burner and you'd have to spin it heavily to get into it. But once you get into it, you'd find it hard to get it out you (pun intended). There are gems here and there, and more than a couple of potential hits. Let's hope Janet will get more pop radio support once her tour kicks off.


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