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Jackson Gets Thoughtful : JANET JACKSON "Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814." A&M ***:***** Great Balls of Fire:**** Knockin' on Heaven's:*** Good Vibrations:** Maybe Baby:* Ain't That a Shame

September 17, 1989|DENNIS HUNT

If you were looking for more great dance music from Jackson--a "Control II" perhaps--you may be disappointed by this transition album. While clinging to her dance-music roots, Jackson has decided to branch out in other directions.

With 1986's "Control," a commercial blockbuster, she established herself as queen of the young dance-music divas, paving the way for the likes of Pebbles, Paula Abdul and Samantha Fox. But she is now stepping beyond that bunch. Her goal apparently is to be another Madonna--the kind of dance-music queen who can also sing ballads and pop tunes.

The album, which she largely co-wrote, runs the gamut--from social commentary to lusty, sensual tunes, from dance music to songs laced with jazz and Brazilian textures. Vocally, Jackson exposes herself more--not hiding behind technological wizardry as much as she did on "Control." Her voice, however, remains somewhat thin and wispy. For what she's trying to do, she needs more vocal power.

What's lost, for the dance fans, is crispness and punch. The dance tracks on the new album are generally busier and more subdued than they should be. What she hopes to gain is artistic credibility. Working again with producing/composing team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Jackson has made an intriguing album. It's certainly more complex, challenging and thoughtful than "Control."

The move to social commentary, however, is a rocky one. "State of the World" and "Livin' in a World (They Didn't Make)" aren't interesting enough musically to carry the messages, though the dance rhythms better support the lyrics on the title song and "The Knowledge."

The highlights are the bouncy "Escapade" and "Someday Is Tonight," a long, steamy tale of romantic surrender, backed by a memorable, muted Herb Alpert trumpet solo that recalls Miles Davis' sultry '50s sound. More than any other number on this ambitious, if uneven album, "Someday Is Tonight" is a signal that the woman who once seemed doomed to always be known as Michael's little sister has grown up.

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