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In 1985, Janet Jackson's future looked bleak. Her dreams of becoming a business lawyer disappeared as her father forced her into showbiz, and amidst a budding career as a successful actress, he again altered her course and pushed her into music. In her teenage years, she released two bubblegum pop albums - 'Janet Jackson' and 'Dream Street' - which both stalled on the charts. So Janet (determined that if she were to make it in the music industry, she would do it on her own merits) fired her father as manager and refused help from her famous brothers in the album's production. Moving to Minneapolis, she recorded with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis an album named 'Control' - an autobiographical record, which would not only break little Janet out of the King of Pop's shadow, but become one of the defining albums of the decade.
Today, the album provides an interesting dilemma for the listener. While the sounds are undeniably 80s and perhaps don't sound as fresh as they once were, there is something about the attitude in the lyrics and crispness of the production that make this album still appealing. Although on a side note, as the album has not yet been re-issued, the audio quality on the CD isn't fantastic. Although if you purchase one of Janet's best ofs (Design of a Decade or more recently, The Best) then you will find the singles from the album remastered and of a superb quality.
The title track kicks off the album to a flying start. A brief spoken word intro creates a feeling of drama and suspense, while also contextualising the song. Then the music starts. The crashing percussion and rippling synthesisers have a lot of bite, even today. The rhythm and the beats are infectious, and almost command you to dance. Janet has never been a Whitney Houston style vocalist, but in this song, she sings with confidence and power. "When I was 17 I did what people told me/Did what my father said and let my mother mould me/But that was long ago..." recalls Janet in the verses in this heavily autobiographical song. It's such a great track, and for me, one of the best in Janet's extensive back catalogue. It's really an anthem for independence - a coming of age moment which is truly triumphant. However, if you're not searching for a deep message then it is simply an edgy and original pop song.
"Give me a beat!" yells Janet, as the hard, stomping 'Nasty' begins. This song is one of the most iconic of the 80s and is loaded with attitude. Husky verses (which has each words almost spat out, as opposed to sung) and a fierce percussion, melodically, it's very simple and perhaps, a little jarring at first. However, the middle 8 is fantastic and the sass in Janet's vocal of delivery of "No, my first name ain't baby, it's Janet... Miss Jackson if you're nasty!" helped the phrase become a national catchphrase. The song, is very 80s, but is fun to dance to and has a great groove. Plus, you can't help but admire it for being one of the best female empowerment anthems in history! Janet's delivery of the lyrics in this song really help it stand out, as you can hear the contempt and frustration in her voice as she shoots down those nasty boys.
Arguably one of the most iconic songs of Jackson's career is 'What Have You Done For Me Lately?'. The song deals with a relationship that has gone bad because the man is not doing enough to please Jackson, prompting her to ask the title question. There is a stomping beat in this song and much like 'Nasty', it's a great song to groove to. It took me quite a while to get the song though, as the chorus literally just consists of seven words. It's a little monotonous, almost plodding until the bridge, when Janet finally shakes it up and adds in some powerful, emotive vocals. It's another empowering song, particularly for women, who need to realise their self-worth (an issue Janet has battled all her life) and who need reminding they can do better. It's a great message, and like with many songs on the album, it's nicely veiled by glossy pop hits that stop it from ever being too condescending or corny.
The only real filler on the CD comes in the form of 'You Can Be Mine'. With a beat which resembles the preceding track rather too closely, with only a few synths to try and mask this fact, it's rather lazy. As are the lyrics, neither empowering or autobiographical, it's a generic love song. It's a pleasant listen, and as with all the songs on this album, it's fun and makes you want to move. However, it just doesn't go that extra mile, so in the grand scheme of things, this song is lost in the abyss of 80s cookie-cutter pop songs.
What I love about 'The Pleasure Principle' is it does what country music does with sadness. There is a complete contrast between lyrics and music. This song is about a failed relationship, subverts it, and builds the lyrics around a heavy dance beat (which still sounds fresh today) and up-tempo melody. I love the higher register and power in Janet's voice in the chorus, it shows how with the right material, she can definitely hold her own vocally. The video is what really adds to the song though. Dancing alone in a darkened room, Janet's skill as a budding performer really captivates you. She also pioneered a legendary set of dance moves, including the infamous moment where she dances on a chair - a move later imitated by Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys and the Pussycat Dolls to name but a few. It's a great dance track and probably out of all the up-tempoes, has aged the best.
Female empowerment is all very well and good, but rightly so, Janet and her producers penned a few bright and breezy numbers, such as Janet's first #1 hit - 'When I Think of You'. The bouncy baseline and light keyboard synths, hit the spot. The crashing percussion adds a sense of drama, along with Janet's cute vocals which are rich with personality. She does sound a lot like her brother, Michael, in this song in that they both have this similar cheeky sense of charm when singing love songs like this. The chorus is a little weak, lyrically speaking, "When I think of you, baby/All I think about... is our love", but the production is so impeccable on the song, you completely over look it.
'He Doesn't Know I'm Alive' is the most cheesy song on the album, it really hasn't aged well. The saxophone, the style of the vocals and the ad-libs are so cringe worthy. Yet, somehow, the song still retains so much charm. It deals with a teenage crush that the speaker feels, and how she'd give anything to be with him... "But he doesn't even know that I'm alive" Janet reminds herself. The bridge is good fun though, as you feel as if the song is progressing somewhere and is telling a story - as the speaker finally plucks up the courage to speak to the boy. It's a cute track that is sort of a guilty pleasure. It's one of those songs that you would loathe to listen to with other people around... but when you're alone, you absolutely love it.
The tinkling on a keyboard introduces 'Let's Wait A While' - one of the most iconic ballads of Janet's career. As she was only 20 when she recorded this song, her soft voice sounds very child-like which from a technical point of view and may leave her vocals open to criticism. But for me, it compliments the message of the song so well. The song addresses abstinence, and is about not rushing into a physical relationship until you are ready. Given that the song was an enormous hit during the AIDs pandemic, it is truly an iconic track. It's got a sweet melody and lyrics which are easy to sing along to aswell, which just make it a great listen.
'Funny How Time Flies (When You're Having Fun)' shows perhaps the conception of a more sensual Janet, who'd be born in her next album with the release of 'Love Will Never Do (Without You)', then grow into the full-on sex kitten on 93's janet. album. "Il me plait d'etre là avec tu je ne sais pas ou... ou le temps s'est enfui... " moans Janet in French at the beginning of the final track. With a finger-snapping, stripped back production, this song is a refreshing change from the hard beats and up-tempo's which fill most of the album. The layering of Janet's vocals in the chorus is beautiful, and adds to the seductive yet innocent feel that the song has. Janet's voice, as I've said before, is nowhere near that of a top-class diva. So she shines in ballads like this which may not have that money-note, but needs a lot of emotion and inflection in the voice. It's a beautiful, soothing way to end the album.
With seven out of the nine tracks penned by Janet, this really is an impressive showcase of her talent in its early stages. Admittedly, the album is short, but this is understandable due to the time constraints faced with vinyl records. In a way, this is an asset though, as it helps distil the quality and means that there is only one track which could even be construed as filler. With so much personality and sass, Janet Jackson was able to gain that much needed independence she craved. Accumulating 15 Million sales and 5 US Top 5 hits, it showed as well that she was no longer riding on Michael's coattails. If you want to relive 80s pop at its best, then I'd suggest having a listen to 'Control' - loaded with personality, edge and great beats, it sounds so much more organic than any pop artist you find today who try to manufacture swagger. It's truly a reminder of why Janet Jackson is a legend.
"Control" came out in 1986 and was the third album by Janet Jackson. Although strictly a Pop album, this has Janet switch form here bubblegum years to a more exciting one as R&B, Hip Hop and Swing was brought into here material starting here. Of the nine tracks on this, seven of them when out as singles (most of which went straight into the top ten).
To kick the thing off you find her breaking free as she moves on from being managed by her father, and having the chance to express this through new, vibrant music, and with the new age sounds of Electronic and Hip Hop being prominent at this time, the novelty of it meant that she had to bring this into her stuff here. It has her concentrate upon speaking of her journey from being fully-obedient to her parents to this now.
The production this one is amazing and the ultimate in eighties sounds with some funky keyboarding found in it to drive her as she attempts to fight back against those abusive men who she has found herself with in the past. It is a killer one, and really stands out on the thing with the great beats really motivating her.
3. "What Have Your Done For Me Lately"
This one seems to take the sounds of the time to the maximum, and pushes them to their limits, but I think that it went a little too far in attempting to take elements of the tune before to a stage where it seems like copycatting, and it seems a little too repetitive. The lyrics in it are a it too much of-the-time, and have no real substance in a modern context, with their simplistic form.
4. "You Can Be Mine"
This was one of the two not to be released as singles and the reason for it is obvious when you listen to it as it sounds far too happy, and with the production not really of the same level which she seems to be at, it can be a little off-putting at times, but then again to all real Pop fans, this will be something which they are likely to like about it. At one point she drops the beat for a breakdown, but it really doesn't come of anything for all of these reasons.
5. "The Pleasure Principle"
This one is a really uplifting one on the record and it has her really get you up with the way see rides the Monte Moir production (responsible for hits by Gladys Knight and Alexander O'Neal too). You can't help but fall for this one as it is so soft, and she really makes the most of the light atmosphere which is created as she performs the thing.
6. "When I Think Of You"
This one isn't as strong as many of the other tunes which you find on the album, but I would say that with time it probably improves as there is definitely potential in the funky beats and such which you find in it. On this one you have her on a hype over new love, which really excites her, and managed to translate in great song writing from here and the duo of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
7. "He Doesn't Know I'm Alive"
This was the other one which didn't come out as a single, but I have to say that this one is a lot better than many of the other tunes on the album as it seems to have some funky beats to it which really get you going as she does her thing and takes on the kind of style which was heard in many other Dance-R&B tunes in the mid eighties.
8. "Let's Wait Awhile"
Recently this was adapted in a single from the St. Louis rapper Jibbs, and in this case you find her doing a tune which has her drop the pace and speak maturely about her relationship with whoever she is with, but I felt as though the chorus and the verse were so disconnected from each other that it meant you couldn't feel it as there was no fluidity to it.
9. "Funny How Times Flies"
On this, this final track, and the final single of the album, you find her doing a highly sensual one, in which she slows the pace right down and creates a seductive scene by whispering in French before getting into the song, and showing how se is capable of carrying a slow jam. It is a nice one, but I felt as though it relied a little too much upon the lines of the chorus, and her just moaning.
This is a fairly good album from Janet, and as it was just the start of a new version of her, you can forgive her for limiting herself to what she does in this new, more adventurous mould, but she seems to bring in all the right things to advance her sounds and make it that little bit more original, ain order to make it stand out.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 What Have You Done For Me Lately
3 You Can Be Mine
4 Pleasure Principle
5 When I Think Of You
6 He Doesn't Know I'm Alive
7 Let's Wait Awhile
8 Funny How Time Flies