Janet Jackson's latest album, All for Love, may play like R&B club music, but it fucks like Gertrude Stein's Lifting Belly--one spin of this disc and everything down to basic grammar begins to feel obsolete: "You whisper words/Your fantasies in my ear/You know this I like/Just tell me how" (from "Love Scene"). Jackson is taking us deeper sexually into her honeyed, dripping, hyperindulgent space. Not even Madonna could pull off this kind of wanton sluttiness.
On "Got 'Til It's Gone," from 1997's The Velvet Rope, Jackson (along with cohorts Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis) managed to imbue a vocal sample from Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" with a gooey eroticism that transformed the otherwise prim and scathing Mitchell into a Penthouse fantasy. This year's "Would You Mind" cuts right to the chase: "I just wanna touch you, tease you, lick you and I'm gonna kiss you, suck you, taste you, ride you." Then in her baby voice, Janet asks, "Would you mind tasting me?"
Mind? Jesus, Janet--we're halfway inside your vagina by now. And the song gets darker. It loses regard for structure, becoming solely about breathy atmospherics, sounding dangerous and drugged out. She simulates an orgasm: "Oh baby. Shit!" she exclaims. But it's a setup for a joke, which is that the song ends before Jackson gets off. "The song ended!" she cries. "You men!"
I remember a different, less "wide-open" Janet, portrayed on backstage footage from her Rhythm Nation 1814 tour, in which Jackson righteously chastised her female contemporaries (which would be Madonna, within whose shadow Janet has always performed) for using sex to promote record sales. Then she shed some weight (and, to our sublime visual torment, some nose) and, sick of all that political stuff (fighting against RACISM! and OPPRESSION!), decided to just be a girl again. She released a video for the Rhythm Nation single "Love Will Never Do Without You," in which a shiny, buxom stud danced around her bare midriff, grabbing at her breasts as she laughed arrogantly in fake hair.
From there, Jackson underwent a sexual revolution. 1993's janet surprised fans with its sexual overtones, and did well by way of record sales, but it was 1997's The Velvet Rope that encapsulated Jackson's woozy, ambitious libido. There was the recorded foray into lesbianism, via phone sex with an unnamed girlfriend, but the casting of Jackson as a sex-crazed stalker on the song "Empty" was most revealing: "You think that maybe we've gone insane/To find a, a lover/And through the words/We've never met. When I lick my lips/I can taste your smile/When I see your name/My heart starts to race/If I can't read your thoughts/ Then I feel empty."
On the back side of The Velvet Rope's sleeve insert, Jackson is photographed from behind, up against a wall, hanging on an actual velvet rope. She is wearing only a bra and some peekaboo lace thing on bottom that reveals a treasure-trail sort of tattoo design, the visual invitation to her poop chute. Even as it feels unseemly to write about someone this way, Jackson is begging me to. ("Would you mind tasting me?"). The "velvet rope" itself is meant to represent something about the place wherein all people who have a "special need to feel like we belong" are given that comfort. ("Come inside my velvet rope.") And I can't figure out whether she's deeply pained or an empowered slut.
And now there's All for You after four years (a potentially career-wrecking hiatus in mainstream pop music), and Janet, while still "fucking" and "sucking" publicly, has decided she wants a long-term relationship. The record features her classified singles ad, "Someone to Call My Lover": "I don't want him too shy/But he's gotta have the qualities/That I like in a man/Strong, smart, affectionate/He's gotta be all for me/And I'll be too/You see happily."
From the train wreck of a Jackson 5/child-TV-star adolescence, through a couple of bad marriages to idiots, into a present-day career that has been international for well over a decade, Janet Damita Jo Jackson has lost more than her nose and a few pesky pounds: She's lost her shame, her decency, and perhaps her marbles. But her live show, highly recommended by yours truly, will be the most mind-bending orgiastic pileup this town has seen in years.
And guess what? It's all for you.