What do you need to make a Janet Jackson song? Not a whole lot of Janet, judging by “Got ‘Til It’s Gone,” an understated, hip-hop pastiche that features the unlikely but inspired pairing of rapper Q-Tip and a sampled Joni Mitchell. It’s the first single to emerge from The Velvet Rope, Jackson’s first studio album in four years, but if you sneeze, you might miss her vocals altogether. Same goes for the funk-you-up “Free Xone,” where she just giggles and talks under her breath.
But who cares? You want singing, then go buy a Cecilia Bartoli record. A Janet Jackson album is about star power, which in this case means coupling her sexy (this time Janet explores S&M) but still accessible attitude with Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis’s thundering, damn-the-torpedoes production. When those two elements fuse, it’s easy to overlook what’s missing. (Virgin)