Shedding the pounds and weighty issues

Janet focuses on herself and her 20-year-long solo career on ’20 Y.O.’

Michael Garberich

It’s hard to believe 20 years have passed since Janet Jackson ventured away from the warm breast of the Jackson clan and broke onto the scene to claim her own portion of the family’s royal pop crown.

That 1986 album was “Control,” a dance-pop celebration that marked the beginning of a fruitful, long-term relationship with collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (see “Rhythm Nation 1814,” “Velvet Rope” and “All For You”). She might not have had the presence on that album that she does 20 years later, but at least it was fresh enough to warrant club and radio play.

The 20 intervening years of pop have introduced schoolyard euphemisms that enable everyone from Susie on the elementary school swing set to your college crowd dance clubbers to sing about their “magic sticks,” “London bridges” and “milkshakes,” while Lil’ Kim and Khia (lending her voice on “So Excited”) do their own things from “head to toe,” neck to back.

Times have changed for pop, and they seem to have done so without Janet on “20 Y.O.”

As she mentions on the album’s introduction, she’s “covered (and uncovered) a lot in (her) 20 years: racism, spousal abuse, empowering women, children.” And it’s those issues, combined with Lewis’ and Jam’s beats, that audiences have embraced. But, this time, she informs us, she wants to “keep it light,” doesn’t want to be “too serious.” So what’s on her mind after 20 years?

Herself.

Her beau, Jermaine Dupri, produced the majority of the album’s heavy-breathed sex-driven tracks, with Jam, Lewis and Johnta Austin also credited.

The result is a rather bland mix of mid-tempo, one-track minded songs like “Call on Me,” featuring Nelly, which are too much like one another and her dismal last disc, “Damita Jo,” to stick. Scattered throughout are five personal and at times unnecessary interludes that reflect beyond her twenty years, even back to ” ’78 Ö when (she was) cute, remember?” On her more upbeat tracks like “So Excited” and the rock-riffed “This Body,” she lacks the catchy hook-infested rhythms that define pop.

It seems that 20 years have simply upped the ante beyond Janet’s comfort zone. The increasingly racy lyrics and self-promoting personas on the pop market today have left Janet’s more straightforward approach in the rearview mirror. The closest she comes is on the album’s third track, “Show Me,” in which we’re repeatedly asked “how bad do you want it … how bad do you need it?

S-H-O ME! ME!”

Thankfully, the song’s (and album’s) greatest appeal is that it lacks the obnoxiousness needed to invade our every public space.

We might still have to hear about Fergie’s lumps and bridges, but we can rest assured that we won’t be hearing “20 Y.O.” 20 years, 20 months or 20 days down the road.

How bad do we want it? How bad do we need it? Well, Janet, we’re more likely to be moving our heads and hips to Kelis’ milkshakes 20 minutes after your album finishes playing, than S-H-O-W-I-N-G YOU!