- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

Janet Jackson

20 Y.O.

Virgin

It’s been 20 years since Janet Jackson released the record that showed the pop world who was in “Control,” and she’s celebrating by throwing fans not a party, but an album.

Unlike her 10-year career commemorative, “Design of a Decade: 1986-1996,” Miss Jackson’s latest is not a greatest-hits compilation. “20 Y.O.,” short for “20 Years Old,” features 11 new tracks plus a slew of those interludes in which listeners just happen onto the singer in a private (i.e., contrived) moment.

“What do I talk about this time?” the star ponders in her intro. “I’ve covered a lot in my 20 years. And I’ve uncovered a lot in my 20 years. [giggles] But I want to be light, I don’t want to be serious. I want to have fun.”

Having a good time does seem central to “20 Y.O.” It isn’t groundbreaking, and it lacks both the ferocity of “Rhythm Nation” and the smolder of “Janet.” Still, Miss Jackson has amassed a solid set of dance-floor shakers and body-rocking slow jams that simultaneously take cues from her past works and attempt to appease contemporary pop audiences. It’s light, fun … and lascivious.

To help write and produce this project, the R&B; queen enlisted the talents of current beau Jermaine Dupri and her original hit-making collaborators, Jimmy “Jam” Harris and Terry Lewis. Did the winning team produce another gem? Yes, but it’s semiprecious — not quite the diamond engagement ring we would expect after two decades, but sparkly in its own right.

The disc’s first single, “Call on Me,” is a sweet but forgettable duet with Nelly, perhaps meant to register with Miss Jackson’s more recent fans. Don’t take it as representative of the rest of the tracks, which possess a distinct ‘80s and ‘90s vibe.

Many songs play off beats, rhythms or instrumentation that longtime admirers will recognize. “Show Me,” for example, teaches a spelling lesson much like “Miss You Much,” and the drum-heavy intro to “Get It Out Me” faintly resembles that of “Come on Get Up.” Fans of Miss Jackson’s more danceable beats may appreciate the up-tempo “So Excited,” which builds off a sample of Herbie Hancock’s “Rock It.” Its lyrics showcase the other kind of rocking that pervades “20 Y.O.,” the kind found in sing-songy “Do It 2 Me” and skanking “This Body.” If you can’t take the heat, stay out of Miss Jackson’s kitchen.

By now, Miss Jackson’s public displays of “affection” shouldn’t surprise anyone. Her earlier recordings have hit on everything from nasty boys to rope burn … and let’s not forget the infamous “wardrobe malfunction.” (Interesting that co-conspirator Justin Timberlake’s recent album is hot and heavy as well.) Perhaps the latter is what she’s referring to when she says, “Thank you, God, for giving us all a sense of humor,” although it’s not yet clear that everyone is laughing about her exhibitionism, physical or otherwise.

Guess Miss Jackson will get the last giggle if this record flies up the charts and off the shelves.

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