Two years ago, we hoped that Janet Jackson’s producer/boyfriend, Jermaine Dupri, would help her pull off the post-Nipplegate comeback she desperately needed with the release of her ninth CD, 20 Y.O. After all, Dupri not only produced three of the biggest hits on 2005’s The Emancipation of Mimi — the miracle that resuscitated Mariah Carey’s all-but-dead career — he was also an executive at Jackson’s then label, Virgin. But lukewarm reviews greeted 20 Y.O., and sales quickly petered out.
In search of a fresh start, Jackson and Dupri relocated to Island Records last year and began work on her new CD, Discipline. If you thought the 41-year-old Jackson, not unlike Madonna and Prince, would drop the nympho shtick and embrace more age-appropriate songwriting and production instead of competing with the Beyoncés and Rihannas of today…you’d be wrong. Fans rejected the childish, soft-core dirty talk of 20 Y.O., but rather than see that as a signal to grow up, Jackson scuttles the maturing process and regresses even further to the creepy, X-rated lyrics that weighed down 2004’s Damita Jo. ”I misbehaved/And my punishment should fit my crime/Tie me to something/Take off all my clothes/Daddy, I want u to take ur time,” she coos on the title track, an S&M fantasy that borders on a repressed incest memory, set to an R&B slow jam co-written and produced by Ne-Yo.
When she’s not feeling randy, she’s hopelessly trying to prove she’s still hip, dropping juvenile come-ons in songs like ”What’s Ur Name”: ”What’s ur name, babe?/Put it right in my Sidekick/And I’ll hit u back/Soon as I get home/I’ll put you in my favorites.” A poet she is not. And her boy-crazy lyrics — which often sound like the cheesy text messages of a lovesick adolescent — certainly lack the flavor needed to put this once-celebrated pop star back on top of critics’ lists.
Despite a couple of promising tracks — ”Can’t B Good” is a tender throwback to brother Michael’s ”Human Nature,” and the summery ”Rollercoaster” is buttressed by a catchy pop hook — the music generally befits the absurd lyrics. Longtime producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are notably absent, making way for Dupri, Ne-Yo, Rodney Jerkins, The-Dream, and StarGate. They often drown out Jackson’s breathy vocals with soulless beats. Only a few midtempo grooves (”Curtains”) and schmaltzy ballads (”Never Letchu Go”) are thrown into the mix, leaving Discipline heavy on forced, forgettable dance cuts (like ”The 1,” featuring Missy Elliott). Indeed, though Jackson boasts in ”Feedback” that her swagger is ”heavy like a first day period,” it’s more like a bloody mess. C-
DOWNLOAD THIS: ”Can’t B Good”