Janet Jackson: Rhythm Nation
Jan 15, 1990
RHYTHM NATION, Janet Jackson (A&M)
Four years on from the mega-selling, dancefloor-definitive Control, Janet Jackson and her winning production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are back. Like Control, Rhythm Nation is an album full of projected singles, though this time bound together by the seemingly inescapable themes of unifying the world and saving the children.
But the politics are shallower than the grooves in the vinyl; the real depth is in the funk. And Janet’s as ready to cut the talk as we are; after a bit of fatuous social concern in ‘The Knowledge’ she snaps, “Get the point? Good, let’s dance!” And the rhythms are hard to resist, jumping out of Jam and Lewis’s drum and synth machines. The Minneapolis production duo frequently filches from hip hop, but sweetens the hard rap beats with their effortless pop instincts.
Ironically, while the largely electronic backings retain the essential elements of R&B, moving like the best dance music, Janet’s singing – the human element in all this – has taken on a decidedly robotic quality.
She’s more convincing when she’s asserting control than when she’s trying to solve the world’s problems, but if Jam and Lewis were to find a really passionate singer – say a young Ruth Brown or Esther Phillips – the results could be awesome.
In the meantime I’ll take Janet’s Rhythm Nation over any of the current albums that bemoan the state of the nation without having Jam and Lewis’s mighty rhythm.