- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Janet Jackson

Damita Jo

Virgin Records

Hey, Janet Jackson has a new album. One almost forgets that was the point of that Super Bowl stunt — to tantalize the millions into buying “Damita Jo.”

Ah, but stunts can backfire; the promotion can overshadow the product. The kiss didn’t help Britney Spears very much. It took years for Elvis to recover from his stint in the Army.

So it may turn out for “Damita Jo,” with Miss Jackson coyly covering her breasts on the cover. Pretty ironic, huh?

Damita Jo DuBlanc was an R&B; singer in the 1950s and ‘60s, but the association here is unintentional.

Damita is Miss Jackson’s middle name. On “Damita Jo,” produced mostly by the dance-pop singer’s confederates Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, it functions as the alter ego to her celebrity — the real Janet, the personal Janet.

Or so she sings on the thumping title track, “Do you think that I’m the person you watch on TV?”

To help us get to know “Damita,” Miss Jackson includes a bunch of spoken-word interludes, as she has on previous albums, that are meant to sound like casual responses to an interviewer.

She likes humidity, sand and palm trees. She likes lying near the ocean at twilight, curled up with a good book and “her baby.”

Oh, and she likes sex.

“I want to sexplore you,” she sings on the uptempo “Sexhibition.” “There’s no place warmer than my mouth,” she purrs on “Warmth,” an R&B; grinder sung over a bed of pornographic wah-wah guitar. “Every time you whisper in my ear I get aroused,” she declares on “Moist.”

“I’m gonna leave you begging for more,” Miss Jackson brags on the breathy hip-hop of “Strawberry Bounce.”

“All Nite (Don’t Stop)” — well, that’s actually about partying, not sex.

It takes Miss Jackson more than an hour to convey every form of protean pop her handlers can think of. “R&B; Junkie” resurrects an old-school beat box; “All Nite” is an attempt at hard funk; the orchestrated “I Want You” plays like neo-Supremes.

“Damita” closes with the programmatic rock and Stratocaster guitar riff of “Just a Little While.” Meanwhile, none of Miss Jackson’s vocal performances stands out; no melody demands immediate playback.

Janet Jackson is treading water. Exhibitionistic sex is her only lifeline, visually and aurally.

The only difference between the Super Bowl and “Damita Jo” is that she won’t be apologizing for the latter.

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