Janet Jackson swings both ways on The Velvet Rope

Record

Review

Joey Guerra

Entertainment Editor

Janet Jackson: The Velvet Rope

(Virgin Records)

Is Janet Jackson trying to tell us something?

Her latest album, a lush, sexy production called The Velvet Rope, is the most musically adventurous album of the young entertainer's career. It could also be the most frank and revealing.

From the steamy phone conversation heard on track five, "Interlude - Speaker Phone," Jackson seems set to give us a totally new, anything-goes perception of her persona.

"You got me on that damn speaker phone," says the female voice on the other line. "What you doin' with your hands that you can't pick up the phone?"

"Don't you worry about it, I'm takin' care of my business," says Jackson in a whisper.

Need a cigarette?

The Velvet Rope is filled with countless gay references, not to mention sexy interludes, provocative lyrics and a number of prime tracks.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and All About Eve, both considered gay-camp classics, are played up in a brief conversation clip. On "Free Xone," a jammin' barrage of James Brown Riffs, Jackson raps, "Girl meets boy/Girl loses boy/Girl gets cute girl back," then urging "One rule/No rules/One love/Free xone."

Such frankness even transcends into Jackson's grooved-up cover of Rod Stewart's "Tonight's the Night." Instead of switching the female references to male, Jackson boldly sings, "Loosen up the back/Of your pretty French gown" and "'Cause I love you girl/Ain't nobody gonna/Stop us now."

Bondage and dripping candle wax also get tied up in The Velvet Rope. The swaying R&B tempo of "Rope Burn" finds Jackson at her seductress best, singing "Tie me up tie me down/Make me moan real loud."

Lest you think shock value is the only reason for this experimentation, producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis back Jackson's fetishes up by framing her vocals with solid beats, from soul to house to drum 'n' bass.

The Velvet Rope also provides some of Jackson's strongest work to date. The haunting title track, which features a bleakly beautiful violin solo by Vanessa Mae, is simply amazing, as Jackson warns, "This special need/That's within us/Brings out the best/Yet worst in us."

The song borrows heavily from "Tubular Bells," the theme music from The Exorcist, which only adds to its eerie attraction.

Elsewhere, Jackson hits her trademark carefree pop hard on the album's first single, "Got 'Til It's Gone," a delicious groove featuring Q-Tip and hearty samples from Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi."

Taking a cue from the soaring melodies of '60s girl groups, Jackson pours her heart into "Together Again," which builds to an ecstatic house beat.

Instead of stretching beyond her means with overdone vocals, Jackson simply lets the groove carry her on The Velvet Rope, reaching, as she says at the album's beginning, a rapturous state of "twisted elegance."

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