Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Rarities #32: Janet The Velvet Rope Tour Edition (1998)

The Velvet Rope is Janet's sixth's studio album, her fourth consecutive album to hit #1 on the Billboard 200. It was released in October 1997, and was promptly banned in Singapore for its lyrical content and themes.

Janet confessed that this was the hardest album for her to make because she was undergoing a bout of depression. It was also during this time when she experienced problems in her secret marriage to producer Rene Elizondo; they would subsequently file for divorce in 2000.

The album deals with the themes of domestic abuse, S&M, homosexuality and self-esteem, and it is rightly Janet's darkest album to date. Whereas her previous janet. album exuded themes of sex, in The Velvet Rope, it is of a different kind of sex, one that is evidenced by the pictures in the album booklet. The public was generally taken aback by the dark themes of the album and called it a departure from the Janet that they knew. The critics however, loved it.

First single, Got 'Til It's Gone, was a huge risk as the album's lead single because it was not what you would consider a very melodic or uplifting song, certainly not one to launch a new album. But it signalled the beginning of the new Janet - a strong, independent woman willing to take risks and do something out of the ordinary.

The song features a sample of Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi, with the line "Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone" becoming the chorus and title of the song. Rapper and good friend Q-Tip (from A Tribe Called Quest) also contributed to a rap on the song.

The song was strangely not released as a single in the US, thus making it ineligible to chart on the Hot 100 singles chart. It was a top 20 hit in most parts of the world. The music video was shot by Mark Romanek and it won the Best Short Form Music Video at the 1998 Grammys. It's beautifully-shot and it's one of my favourite Janet videos.

After the uncommercial-sounding first single, Janet released Together Again, which became one of her biggest hits, being her eighth #1 single and selling nearly 6 million copies worldwide. The song was dedicated to the friends that she had lost to AIDS, with the promise that one day, they will be "together again".

It was an uplifting song and returned Janet to familiar territory, at least, to the Janet that her fans know and had grown to love. Together Again was the closing song to her Velvet Rope tour, and a most appropriate and fitting one.

Janet recorded new vocals for the remix, which featured a totally new arrangement and melody from the original. It was called the Deeper Remix and it can be found on the CD single. She also performed this remix version at the 1998 Amercian Music Awards. This performance is one of my favourite Janet live performances ever, because the choreography was so tight. She simply killed it.

Third single was I Get Lonely, which debuted and peaked at #3 on the Hot 100. The single was supposed to be released much earlier, but due to the overwhelming response to Together Again, the single release was pushed back.

Two other singles were officially released - Go Deep and Every Time. They weren't big hits, but I liked the music video for Go Deep. It feaured a fanboy having a large foam party at his house with Janet, only to realise it was a dream. Quite cute and funny.

There was another single, You, which was released in a few territories only. It was rumoured to be abouut her brother MJ, but apparently Janet clarified in a later interview that she was singing about herself. It's a good song, and I loved the performance of the song in The Velvet Rope tour, with all those double-faced dancers prancing around.

Other notable tracks on this album are the title track,What About and Tonight's The Night. The title track features Vanessa-Mae with a violin solo, that I thought was very well-played and appropriate to the sound of the album. Too bad she didn't get to perform it live with Janet ever.

What About is one hell of an angry song, and it features a pissed off Janet with lyrics like "What about all the shit you've done to me? ...What about the times you said you didn't f**k her, she only gave you head? What about that, what about that?" She performed this song on the 1998 VH1 Fashion Awards and on the tour as well, and it's a powerful and dramatic performance.

Tonight's The Night was originally written by Rod Stewart, and in her version Janet implies that she's having a threesome. In the opening lyric, she sings "This is between me and you...and you." Later on, she alternates between "Cause I love you boy" and "Cause I love you girl" for the different choruses.

Janet toured with this record, winning new fans and bouncing back in a most spectacular way. She sold out all 32 dates of her Europe leg, and visited 5 continents. Her Madison Square Garden show was also broadcast live on HBO, and later released on home video. It's a solid, solid show and I like this concert more than the All For You tour. The dancing and stage presence is simply amazing.

I have 2 special editions of the album. One is the regular 2CD tour edition, while the other is the Australian Tour Edition. Both packages have the same tracklisting for the main album and bonus disc.

The Velvet Rope is definitely Janet's most critically-acclaimed album, even though it was not her best-seller or one with the most hit singles. She followed her heart and dared to buck the trends by creating a new and seemingly uncommercial sound. The tour and live performances that accompanied the album were also superb and I honestly feel it's Janet's best era. The album is no longer banned in Singapore (though not officially announced), so you can get it in stores here now.



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