Home Read Classic Album Review: Janet Jackson | Damita Jo

Classic Album Review: Janet Jackson | Damita Jo

This came out in 2004 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):


There is a theory that Janet Jackson’s half-time “wardrobe malfunction” at this year’s Super Bowl was an act of sisterhood. No, not in the feminist sense. Sisterhood in the familial sense. Janet, it is speculated, willingly exposed herself (so to speak) to the wrath of the nation in order to take the heat off her scandal-plagued brother Michael.

Sure, it sounds nuts. But hey, they’re the Jacksons; everything about them is kinda nuts. Next to the hyperbaric chambers, secret marriages and simian playmates — not to mention the more sordid accusations — a big of intentional exhibitionism almost sounds like a good idea.

Unfortunately, hat’s more than you can say for her new album Damita Jo, titled after her middle name. Ill-conceived, misguided and at times just plain icky, this is a career malfunction of mammoth proportion — especially in light of that recent controversy. At a time like this, most people would probably have advised Janet to take it down a notch, throw on some clothes and act a little more ladylike. You’d have better luck trying to keep Michael out of the kiddie pool. From front to back and top to bottom, this 22-track affair is a remarkably unsexy sleazefest that makes the boob seen round the world look like small potatotes (again, so to speak).

Start with the cover, which features Janet topless, covering herself with her hands — like that ship hasn’t already sailed. Inside, there’s more where that came from. Here’s Janet trying to look all seductive in a tiny shred of fabric; there’s Janet looking pensive with her shirt open and boobs pressed together. OK, we get it. They’re real and they’re fantastic.

But if it’s true titillation you want, look no further than the lyrics. Pretty much every song on Damita Jo consists of little more than nymphomaniacal come-ons and X-rated overtures blatant enough to make Courtney Love blush. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — up to a point. But listening to track after track with titles like Sexhibition, Strawberry Bounce, All Nite (Don’t Stop), Moist and Slolove is like being forced to sit through an endless soft-core porn loop; things quickly go from sexy to boring to downright offputting. The low point comes in the syrupy Warmth, whose lyrics begin with, “My hands wrapped around / Stroking up and down,” and end up in places I can’t talk about in a newspaper. Which raises the question: Can you catch a sexually transmitted disease from your Walkman? Asking for a friend.

Of course, this is hardly virgin territory for Jackson. She’s been insistently and repeatedly peddling this horny shtik for her past few albums — and dragging longtime producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis along for the ride. As usual, they do their best to keep the musical side of the equation fresher than Jackson’s stale act. Though they’re trapped in breathy ballad land for most of this 65-minute one-night stand, Jam and Lewis — not to mention trackmasters Dallas Austin, Kanye West, Babyface and others — manage to sneak in more than a few decently funky low-wattage grooves. Sexhibition bumps and grinds to a gritty, stripped-down beat; Strawberry Bounce jumps along seductively; All Nite (Don’t Stop) moves to a slinky, serpentine vibe; R&B Junkie kicks it old-school robofunk-style; and the closing track Just A Little While is an authentic slice of crunchy guitar rock. Most of them could be hit singles, but for Janet’s sure-to-be-censored/bleeped lyrics.

Granted, those lyrics haven’t exactly hurt her in the past. But in the current climate, you have to wonder if Janet hasn’t miscalculated. All this heavy breathing and phone-sex chatter hardly jives with her post-incident claims of not wanting to offend. And ultimately, you have to ask why an artist of her talent is getting herself stuck in this slutty rut. Is it overcompensation by a performer who’s unfathomably unsure of her obvious sexuality — at the ripe old age of 37? A blatant bid for attention by an artistically bankrupt songwriter willing to substitute controversy for creativity? Only she knows for sure. I just know she can do better than Damita Jo — and that’s what she ought to be ashamed of.

Now, if only Michael could do something wacky to take the spotlight off her. But what are the odds of that happening?