Monday, October 17, 2011
Essential Albums of the '80s: Janet Jackson - Control (1986)
It must feel good if you’re an artist struggling to find an audience and finally discover the sound that fits your style and delivers what the public has been hungry for. That’s what Janet Jackson did with her third album, Control, which was wildly more successful than her hitless first two albums.
Although she was already famous for her television work (and for just being a Jackson), Control proved that Janet was an artist in her own right. The hard-edged dance pop sound was honed by Minneapolis-based production duo Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, cementing a musical relationship with Jackson that would last into the ‘00s, producing hit after hit.
What’s satisfying about Control is that as much as it delivered hit singles—five top 10s in the US—it also holds together well as an album, both musically and thematically. It’s a statement about independence, professionally, personally, even sexually.
The title track spells it all out with its spoken-word intro before breaking into the album’s signature high-octane dance pop. “Nasty,” my favorite track, finds Jackson bending gender stereotypes, treating men like playthings she can love or leave on her own terms. Its deep bass grind still feels fresh and fun. “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” finds Jackson on the verge of a breakup, but rather than a sob story about some guy dumping her, she’s the one laying out how’s it going to be if he wants her to stay.
As in your face as these songs are, “Let’s Wait Awhile” shows that you don’t have to give up control to be sensitive, with Jackson telling her beau she wants to forgo sex…for now. She later seals the deal on closing track “Funny How Times Flies (When You’re Having Fun),” introducing Jackson’s signature sexual coos that permeate many of her later albums, although at this early stage, it doesn't yet feel so tawdry. Elsewhere, the album stays aloft with the joyful dance pop of songs like “The Pleasure Principle,” “You Can Be Mine” and her first #1 hit “When I Think of You.” A true ‘80s gem.
Best: Nasty, When I Think of You, What Have You Done For Me Lately, Control, Let’s Wait Awhile
Further Listening: Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989)
I already wrote about this album as part of my 1990 series, since its multiple hit singles (seven top 5 hits) were such an integral part of that year’s music landscape. But the album did come out in the twilight hours of the ‘80s, so it deserves mention here, since it’s even better than Control, with Jam & Lewis pushing Jackson further into groovy dance pop with a touch of new jack swing. After the inward-looking Control, Rhythm Nation’s theme looked outward at the problems of the world, but also found time for love, sex and hedonistic fun. Best: Rhythm Nation, Miss You Much, Love Will Never Do (Without You), Come Back to Me, Alright, Escapade, Black Cat, State of the World.