Pop on Record: Janet The Velvet Rope

Virgin CDV 2860

Having already released an album bearing her forename as its title, The Velvet Rope finds Janet Jackson extending the principle, presumptuously laying claim, on this follow-up, to single-name status - the true mark of celebrity in this age littered with supposed superstars.

The album represents Janet's belated entry, after years spent pretending to be a machine, into the erotic-soul arena of Jodeci, TLC, and others even more risque. At least, that's what the stylists have sensibly decided, kitting the album and Janet herself out with none-too-subtle bondage and rubber imagery. And who could blame them, after reading Janet's own ponderous elucidation of the "concept" of the Velvet Rope, which she views as that separating the celebrocracy from the rest of us at clubs and premieres. "There's also a Velvet Rope we have inside of us," she claims in the ultra-elegant promotional package, "keeping others from knowing our feelings." Oh, right - that Velvet Rope. So all the orgasmic moanings in tracks such as "My Need" and the stuff about being tied up and having candlewax dripped over her naked body are actually metaphors, then? That's a relief.

With the likes of Jam & Lewis prominent among the production credits, and tracks built around mostly familiar Seventies funk grooves, it's a reliable offering musically - except for when Vanessa Mae adds screeching violin histrionics to the title-track - but it is never convincing thematically. The pointedly ambisexual version of the Rod Stewart defloration ballad "Tonight's the Night" is too arch for comfort, and Janet's erotic imprecations seem slightly bogus - as if all those years pretending to be a machine have left a residual mechanical slant to her emotions, as well as her movements.

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