Janet’s breakthrough album, Control, was a personal declaration of her independence from managers, public perceptions, spin-handlers and family. On Rhythm Nation she has cast her net wider—taking on a whole world of problems. For the first half of the album, the songs (as well as the patter in the interstices) address such topics as homelessness, drugs, education and crime. Jackson’s heart may be in the right place—she’s against all the bad, hurtful stuff in a vague, Tinker Bell sort of way—but the quality of her music hasn’t been raised with her social conscience. What a relief when she concludes her lecture by saying, “Get the point? Good. Now, let’s dance,” before launching into the hit “Miss You Much.”
That song, with its heart-starting, heavily mechanical drum programming, marks the record’s return to a standard pop-soul format. Better late than never, but even better not late in the first place.
As she did on Control, Janet gets writing, instrumentation and production help from Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The music has the hard, sharp edge we’ve come to expect from these Minnesota soul moguls. (Listen to “Alright” and “Escapade” for a crash course on studio artistry.) But overall the writing isn’t as sterling nor the funky moxie as evident as it was on the previous Jackson-Jam & Lewis collaboration. Except for “Miss You Much,” the sweet ballad “Lonely” and the title track—which builds on the burnin’ hunk o’ funk guitar riff from Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”—this collection would have to be accounted a disappointment. As it stands, it is a misguided effort from a little lady who has gained maybe a tad too much control. (A&M)