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“Relax. It’s just sex.”
Impossible. Although Janet Jackson delivers those instructions a mere six minutes into her new CD, “Damita Jo,” relaxation is the last thing on her agenda with this sinfully appealing concoction of infectious beats and scandalous lyrics.
Even before her Super Bowl shuffle pushed the FCC over the edge, the freak-quency of Jackson’s exposure had been increasing ever since she released “janet” in 1993. That album cover offered the first glimpse of the breasts that launched a thousand V-chips, beneath the small hands of her then-husband.
Next came “Velvet Rope” in 1997, complete with songs about bondage and magazine photos showing Jackson with her nipple pierced, butt be-thonged, crotch tattooed and body pricked by an ice pick. And her last album was 2001’s “All For You,” which featured more than a few songs that can’t be quoted here without what, in the printed form, would amount to a ten-word delay.
Now comes “Damita Jo,” which is so sex-drenched it’s bound to raise even more hackles among moral conservatives and questions about whether Jackson planned her halftime peep show.
Such content isn’t unusual in today’s pop culture landscape, where cable TV’s raunch is stealing viewers and awards from broadcast networks and the Cat in the Hat tells dirty jokes on movie screens. But if this is what it’s come to for the woman who once played little Penny on “Good Times,” what’s next — Hilary Duff swinging from the stripper pole?
Remember “Nasty” in 1986? Title notwithstanding, that hit song was a 20-year-old Jackson’s demand for modesty, with lines like “the only nasty thing I like / is a nasty groove ... so close the door if you want me to respond / ’cause privacy is my middle name.”
Actually, Jackson’s middle name is the title of both her new album and its first song, in which Miss Jackson now proclaims herself “freak undercover / I do movies, I do dance / I do music, I love doing my man / I want a nasty boy, put it on me good ...”
New CD has the goodsMy, how she’s grown. Still, it’s a great song from Jackson’s longtime producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, with a contagious chorus and beat perfectly balanced between hip-hop and R&B. As always, Jackson’s voice is sweet and frosting-light — there’s not one vamp or soaring note on the whole album.
But we’ve never looked for vocal extravaganzas from Jackson, now 38. We look for her to entertain us with excellent videos, saturate the radio with catchy tunes, and move our bodies in the club.
“Damita Jo” has the goods to do exactly that. Among the many excellent tunes are “My Baby,” featuring the atypical rapper/producer Kanye West; the Babyface-penned-and-produced “Thinkin’ Bout My Ex,” which might have Jackson’s current boyfriend Jermaine Dupri looking over his shoulder; and the soulful dance track “SloLove,” which is not slow at all with production from Murlyn Music of Sweden.
Unlike brother Michael, whose music went downhill after two incredible albums (1979’s “Off the Wall” and 1982’s “Thriller”), Janet’s output has remained consistently good, even eclipsing Michael’s in recent years. But one thing Michael will always have is songs that mean something. Janet hasn’t touched that since 1989’s “Rhythm Nation.” And judging from this album, she probably needs to remake “Looking For Love (in All The Wrong Places).”
Although Jackson dedicates several interludes to the theme of how we (i.e. she) are a mixture of “so many different characters ... all looking for love,” her search doesn’t get much farther than the bedroom. This is where a “sexplosion” could jump off, a “tastation” might go down and she’d prefer you’d “just be an animal.”
By the time we get to the song “Moist,” even eunuchs would get the idea.
This sexual fixation is the only problem with “Damita Jo” — an especially glaring one considering that one of Jackson’s private parts is responsible for what some are calling the biggest outbreak of cultural Puritanism in decades.
For creating pop confections that you can grind to on the dance floor or wherever else grooves are got on, Jackson remains up there with Madonna as one of the best ever. She’s still relevant and compelling 22 years after her first album, and will probably remain so long after her right breast is forgotten.
But Jackson has forgotten that classic songs need classic lyrics. All we get on “Damita Jo” is verbal Viagra. And no matter how sweet the sensation, Jackson can’t make it seem like love.