Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Janet and Mariah - First listen!

So, Def Jam were showing off the two female jewels in their crown today with playbacks of the new Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey albums.

Label Boss Antonio "LA" Reid seemed very excited about both of them, although that is his job, and mentioned plans for six singles from Mariah's That Chick, which hits the stores in April.

First up, though, was Janet's Discipline. If you've heard the single, Feedback, you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the album. It's crisp, danceable R&B lavished with Janet's trademark velvet harmonies.

The stand-out track was probably Tonight, a bubbling club track which can only be Jackson's response to Rihanna's Don't Stop The Music. Reid mentioned that some of the tracks weren't finished - and this one sounded like it was missing a sample somewhere in the mix. Once that's added, this could be Janet's biggest dance success since Together Again.

Love, Love, Love and This Can't Be Good saw the lyrical return of the sweet singer who first raised her head on Let's Wait Awhile - all coy and bashful while falling head over heels in love.

But the sleazy siren of 20 YO is also present. Title track Discipline is a gruseome plea for fetishistic S&M sex - with Janet referring to her lover as "Daddy" while asking to be tied up and disciplined. Given that her father is a well-documented control freak who used to beat his kids, this is more than a little uncomfortable.

Speaking of family connections, there's long been a rumour that Janet and Michael will team up again (as they did on 1996's Scream) this year. Well, nothing I heard today confirms that rumour - but there is a track called Rock With You that appears to sample the single of the same name from Off The Wall. Could the finished version feature guest vocals by the former King of Pop? I genuinely hope not.

The remaining two tracks, Rollercoaster and Greatest Ex Ever, didn't really set my world alight - but you never know what'll happen on repeated listens.

The main thing seems to be that Janet is back on form, vocally and lyrically. The record is very safe and commercial, although I'm not sure where they'll go for the third single (Tonight surely has to be the second). But as a first step towards career rehabilitation Def Jam have made a strong play for their newest diva.

Their old diva (in terms of contract, not age, of course) is Mariah, who is riding high after the 7xPlatinum-selling Emancipation Of Mimi.

We got to hear 10 tracks from the follow-up, That Chick, which I have to say sounded more polished and commercial than Janet's effort.

One track in particular is set to make big bucks, and that's Bye Bye - a torch song for people "who lost they grandmothers". I guarantee that Simon Cowell will be sick of hearing badly-realised auditions of it by the end of the year.

Lyrics were never Carey's strong point, mind you, so her paean to loss is summed up with not-very-insightful Hallmark platitudes like "I'd give the world to see your face" and "Life goes on". Profound, eh?

Still, at least it's better than when she desperately attempts to prove how bang up to date she is. In Touch My Body, she purrs to her lover: "If there's a camera up in here then I best not catch this flick on youtube (youtube)". Not exactly the sexiest boudoir come-on you've ever heard, is it?

But there are plenty of good tunes to counter the awesomely bad lyrics. Migrate, about a night out with Mariah while she wears jeans ("yeah, they fit", she informs us) is sure to be a candidate for heavy MTV rotation, although I hope to god they excise T-Pain's hopelessly strained vocals. Lovin' You Long Time, meanwhile, is a strutting uptempo number very much in the style of It's Like That.

So, what have we learnt from this listening "event"? Well, I wasn't overwhelmed by the music - despite (or perhaps because of) the fact it was played so ear-splittingly loud that it felt like I was being punched repeatedly in the ears by a cyberman. Both artists have turned in a tuneful, competent set of R&B songs, but I'm not sure that any of them have the charisma or vitality to compete with the Rihannas and Beyonces of this world.

Both albums: 6/10 (scores may go up or down after further listens at levels tolerable to the human ear).

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