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The juxtaposition of Janet Jackson's 10th studio album, Discipline, being released around the same time as brother Michael's expanded 25th anniversary edition of the landmark 1982 touchstone Thriller is an eye opener.
Trading in longtime collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis for a slew of chart-topping producers like Ne-Yo, The-Dream, Tricky Stewart, Stargate, Johnta Austin and Rodney Jerkins, insures a modern, sleek sound.
Despite its shortcomings, Discipline presents a once again vital Janet. Her obsession with things sexual - from the album title to the S&M-themed photos to a dropped line here and there - is a distraction that fans have learned to put up with. The opening single "Feedback" is full of more innuendo than an Elliot Spitzer press conference
But when she puts aside the forced raciness and gets down to business, Jackson proves she still retains the family's Midas touch. The songs, ranging from the bubbling dance tracks "Rock with U" and "2Nite," to inventively arranged ballads like "Never Letchu Go" and "Can't B Good," to the utterly modern sounding bouncy track "Luv" and the percolating "Rollercoaster," present urban pop at its best.
On Discipline, the focus is totally on Jackson, with Missy Elliott being the only featured guest artist on the forgettable "The 1." Taken as a whole, it may not raise her career back to post "wardrobe malfunction" heights, but it shows that a little discipline can go a long way... which is why a listen to Michael Jackson's newly revamped Thriller is so depressing. Thriller may have set the world on fire back in the mid-'80s, and deservedly so for Michael's astonishing stage performances and flair, androgynous appearance, and groundbreaking arrangements and productions. But with 25 years hindsight, the songs are... ehhh.
Of course, you've got the triumvirate of killer songs, with the title track "Thriller," "Beat It" (with an Eddie Van Halen solo that still rocks) and "Billie Jean." But would you really ever want to hear "The Girl Is Mine," the flaccid duet with Paul McCartney, again? Ditto for many of the other "smashes" which the blockbuster album spawned.
But aside from that revisionist history, what the reissuing of Thriller emphasizes is what a waste there's been of Michael's talent amid the last decades of National Enquirer- like headlines.
The bonus tracks on Thriller, featuring remakes of "Beat It" with Fergie, "Billie Jean" with Kanye West and two tracks with will.i.am, may not top the originals, but they do show how current Jackson's music could still sound in today's environment. If he took some lessons from his sister in discipline and record making, Michael could also be creating new music, instead of resting on 25year-old laurels.
Janet may not be the musical trendsetter she once was, but Discipline contains enough elements to draw attention, for the right reasons.
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