Exclusive: Janet Jackson Discipline Preview

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Yesterday, Def Jam honcho L.A. Reid invited a group of journalists into his office to play tracks from Janet Jackson’s upcoming album Discipline (due out Feb. 26). Janet fans worried that the absence of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (her longtime producers who’ve been shaping her sound since 1986′s Control) should fear not: the combination of pillowy, multi-tracked harmonies and virtually non-stop dance tracks results in an album that out-Janets Janet. Easily her most dance-oriented album since Rhythm Nation 1814 (and possibly her most dance-oriented album ever), Discipline is the album so many fans have been waiting for. Below are our impressions of the nine tracks Reid played:

1. “Luv” – An extended automotive metaphor (red lights/headlights imagery, the line: “He hit me with his love”) makes this like a bumper-car rink for Janet’s vocals, which bounce her constant refrain of “Luv, luv, luv, luv…” all over the place. Vocally, it’s hyper like the chorus of Chris Brown’s “With You,” but musically, it sounds like a Southern-fried sequel to Kanye West’s “Good Life.” Reid played this one twice and after the second time, there was some murmuring about it being the next single. Commercially, that would make a lot of sense.

2. “Feedback” – The single, duh. It has a house beat, but it’s the least house-y of the other 4/4 tracks. Oh yeah, Janet goes there. Also, I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to hear Janet sing about her period amongst fine wood office furniture and expensive candles. A moment to remember, for sure. Listen to “Feedback” on Rhapsody.

3. “This Can’t Be Good” – Think Aaliyah’s “Rock the Boat” with a more punishing beat, and you’re halfway there. Another obvious reference point would be Michael Jackson’s “Butterflies” and/or Janet’s own “Spending Time With You” from Damita Jo. Lyrics are standard falling-in-love-too-deep fare, although the song is put together well: the thwack of the snare contrasts heavily with the layers of cooing vocals. The layers pile and pile so that by the bridge, the song is virtually dizzying. This one’s extremely well-produced, but perhaps the least exciting track we were privy to.

4. “Rock With You” – This one was rumored to be a cover of Michael Jackson’s classic and/or to feature Michael himself. It’s neither. It seems to have some melodic elements snatched from Mike’s track, although the chorus is more, “Ooh ooh ooh ooooh oooh oooh” than “I wanna rock with you.” Janet’s vocals seem a bit detached and robotic, but that’s not an insult: they’re most reminiscent of Donna Summer’s in “I Feel Love” without the operatic flair. This one is pure house music, with an electroboogie bass line borrowed from the ’80s. It’s bright enough so that it wouldn’t sound out of place on one of those Beach House compilations released by Hed Kandi.

5. “Tonight” – Speaking of bright, this one just shines. It’s another dance track — more or less housey (although the beat pattern has a slight twist keeping it from being straight four-on-the-floor for most of it). It has the filter-house thing of Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” going on (the second verse is virtually treble-free), but where that song has a darkish vibe, this one’s up up up. Again, Janet seems detached, but that’s only during the verses: she breaks out like the sun between clouds during the chorus, belting in her high register that immediately reminded me of “Young Love.” The song only gets better as it goes, too: two killer bridges and an amazing breakdown (“Don’t leave me alone tonight / Don’t leave me tonight”) close it out. Epic and brilliant: this is by far my favorite track that we were played.

6. “The Greatest Ex” – A departure for Janet, this one’s most akin to OneRepublic’s “Apologize.” Like “Tonight,” there’s this epic sensibility, but this time it’s applied to the power-ballad template. Timbaland-esque beats skitter around Janet’s confession (this definitely seems like the most personal song on the record): “In my heart, I know you’ll always be the greatest ex ever.” I pointed out to L.A. Reid after that this is the pop smash, the Z100 crossover and he agreed. It’s not the best track, but it has tremendous potential to kill at radio. Seriously, if Janet can’t get a hit with this one, it isn’t her fault; it’s the world’s.

7. “Discipline”The baby-making track (though in an interview conducted with Janet today, she told us about “Curtains,” which is faster but with a sexy vibe). It’s similar in theme to Velvet Rope’s “Rope Burn,” but not in sound. This is slower and sparser, like a Prince song that’s not purple, but black and blue. “I misbehaved / I touched myself even though you told me not to,” coos Janet to her “Daddy” before asking him to “take out your frustrations on me.” It’s heavy stuff, but probably not as dark as it sounds. The snare is made to sound like a whip, which is a pretty brilliant touch.

8. “Rollercoaster” – One of the most bizarre things that Janet’s ever done, it wouldn’t be surprising if this one ended up being left off the album. It’s extremely layered and tough to get your head around: the melody never seems quite right until the bridge and then after, it’s more topsy-turvy. Rodney Jerkins produced this one and though it shares virtually no musical ideas with it, it has the same woozy effect as “What About Us?” which he produced for Brandy.

9. “Let Me Know” – A Miami-bass-esque ballad that’s somewhat indistinct, but nice all the same. It sounds more like filler than anything else we were played, but it’s pleasant enough.

After L.A. played the nine tracks, he asked us if we wanted to hear anything again, and ended up playing “Luv” and “Tonight” another time before saying goodbye. As a bonus treat, he played the title cut from Mariah Carey‘s That Chick as we were leaving. Mariah’s tune is a rollerskating jam not unlike Ne-Yo’s “Because of You.” It just never stops bouncing. Hearing it on the way out underscored the feeling I got from hearing Janet’s disc: now’s a really great time to be a diva.

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