I find myself magnetically drawn to Janet Jackson albums, in spite of the fact that plenty of her music leaves me cold. I’ve never really understood this. The very straightforward rationale is that it is because I find her attractive, which I do (and have for over a quarter of a century - it’s surely about time I grew out of it). I like the way she looks and so, the logic goes, I want to like her music.
But that doesn’t explain it fully, because there are plenty of singers I’ve found physically appealing over the years whose music I wouldn’t contemplate buying. I wouldn’t consider owning a Pink album, and I find her (sporadically) sexy as hell. Taylor Swift (who reminds me of my wife) won’t get near my iPod. Alicia Keys, who has the huge advantage of playing the piano (I realise I am alone in finding this alluring in a woman), I own a couple of singles. So what is it about Janet Jackson?
I think in part it’s because her appeal goes back to my teens, a time when aesthetic factors had more influence on my listening habits - not just whoever I found physically pleasing, but the whole visual package of the video, the artwork of an album or single, it was all part of the process. That connection was formed then, and (as previous postings about musical affiliations I formed then prove) I don’t let such ties go easily. And in part it’s because there’s something breathy and ethereal about her vocal style which has always been easy on the ear. But, in my defence, it’s also because all of her albums contains something of merit. The title track here, for example, is pleasingly funky, (although the discovery that it samples The Glow Of Love by Change, which is presumably responsible for the meat of the backing, was dispiriting). The song Truth contains one of those lovely choruses Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis do so well, although again it’s hard to know how much responsibility for that goes to the ‘interpolation’ (from O-o-h Child by Five Stairsteps, whoever they are).
Where this album is somewhat unsettling, however, is in the overt sexuality of its lyrics. Apparently it was recorded in the aftermath of her divorce, and in several places she sounds like a cougar (as I understand the modern terminology to be) in predatory mood. Would You Mind, in particular, is like a letter from the pages of Penthouse. Although as an 18 year old it would probably have driven me wild, these days it evinces in me the same sense of vague disappointment as I felt when she exposed herself at the Superbowl. When it was all about teasing, hinting, alluding, it was truly erotic; when it’s all laid out there in its Parental Advisory glory, it just seems tawdry.