Janet Jackson: Discipline

I wanted to stand by Janet Jackson during Nipplegate in 2004 — really, I did. I had intended to march down to the music shop on the day Damita Jo was released to show my support for Miss Jackson, to stand against the histronics of a conservative agenda run amok.

But I hedged my bets.

I jumped on the Evil Sharing Networks to see if I could afford to spend the cash to show such support, and after listening to the album, I couldn’t bring myself to subsidize it. In the same manner that I wouldn’t buy a Dixie Chicks album just because they pissed off some conservative blowhards, taste overrode political action.

Janet’s 2006 follow-up, 20 Y.O., garnered the same response. But the problem stems much further back — as far back as 1997 and The Velvet Rope. The production team that struck platinum with Control, Rhythm Nation 1814 and (to a lesser extent creatively) janet. started to show signs of wear. By 2001’s All for You, the well was tapped dry.

Ruts are comfortable, and for most of the new millennium, Janet has been very comfortable. After some very high-profile label changes, she finally did what she should have done a decade back — work with new people.

Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam have done much to foster Janet as a talent in her own right, but at some point, kids need to move out of their parents’ house. Discipline is the much-delayed sound of Janet exerting independence once again.

Back in the mid-’80s and early-’90s, Janet and Madonna were the pacesetters of pop music, tweaking their images as their audience aged and matured. But where Madonna continued to remodel herself, Janet got stuck in a loop of kinky sex.

The title Discipline strongly hints Janet hasn’t quite moved away from that aesthetic, but the content of the album itself shows much more range than previous efforts.

She can still be candidly kinky, as on "Feedback" and "Rock With U", but she also leaves room for tenderness ("Greatest X", "Never Letchu Go") and even poignancy ("Can’t B Good"). A guest appearance by Missy Elliott on "The 1" assures at least one raunchy moment. ("Seven inches? Yup, that’ll do.")

Perhaps most striking is the coherent pace of the album — fillers are in short supply, and while not every track is a single, most of them are catchy enough to sit through. "Rollercoaster" features Janet’s trademark harmonies making clever world play of the chorus. Although not a cover of her brother Michael’s hit single from 1979, "Rock With U" certainly feels like an homage.

Janet and Island Def Jam president Jermaine Dupri corral a large stable of producers, including Rodney Jerkins, Ne-Yo, Johnta Austin, Tricky Stewart and The-Dream, but manage to keep the album focused. From track to track, it’s not apparent so many hands made contributions.

Even the interludes with Kyoko, Janet’s AI assistant, are entertaining.

Jam and Lewis make not a single appearance on the album, which essentially marks the end of an era. Of course, Janet could work with them the next time around, but honestly? I prefer she continues to shake things up. That’s what made her interesting at the start of her career, and it’s what makes Discipline interesting now.