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The ones that nearly got away: Janet Jackson, The Velvet Rope

[Janet Jackson - The Velvet Rope]

Count me as one of the folks with a ticket to a future Janet Jackson concert. She rescheduled her January 2016 date in Seattle to July before postponing the tour entirely. I intend to hold onto my ticket just to see how long I can keep it on my refrigerator door.

I was a pretty solid Janet fan till All for You, when it felt like she was spinning her wheels creatively. I stood by her during the Super Bowl incident in 2004, but I couldn’t justify sinking cash into Damita Jo. I didn’t get back on board till Discipline in 2008, at which point the major labels dropped her.

So when Unbreakable turned out to be awesome enough to crack the Favorite Edition 2015 list, I went back to her post-Rhythm Nation 1814 work to see if my opinion had changed. I still have a dim view of janet., but The Velvet Rope has turned out to be a durable and underrated album.

The hype machine went into overdrive in 1993 with janet. but I wasn’t convinced. It was sprawling mess, and the supposed influence of what was called “electronica” — now just called EDM — didn’t amount to much.

The Velvet Rope, on the other hand, gave the ideas of its predecessor some much-needed editing. The smooth ’90s sound got darker, as did the subject matter. “What About” has a fury that outstrips “Black Cat”, while “Together Again” is the bounciest tune about loss.

The Velvet Rope was released after I moved to Austin, Texas. I hung out at gay bars at the time, trying to figure out what I could get out of them. (Not much, as it turned out.) “Together Again” could be heard night after night, alongside whatever single the Spice Girls had out at that time.

When money got tight, I decided I didn’t need much from Janet except for Control and Rhythm Nation 1814, so The Velvet Rope got an eviction notice. Discipline is holding up OK, but The Velvet Rope has turned out to be better than I remember it.

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Looking Ahead: March-May 2016

[Explosions in the Sky - The Wilderness]

My first reaction as I compiled this entry was, “Yay! Some of my favorite artists are releasing new music!” My second reaction was, “Why are they all waiting till April?”

Explosions in the Sky, The Wilderness, April 1

Take Care, Take Care, Take Care tread familiar territory and felt a bit worn out. The preceding single from this new album, “Disintegration Anxiety”, sounds like the band is aiming for a new sound. I hope it’s a successful effort.

Duran Duran, Girls on Film – 1979 Demo, April 1

Andy Wickett offers a CD-R of the 1979 Duran Duran demo, but it looks like he’s licensed it to Cleopatra for a proper reissue.

Ben Watt, Fever Dream, April 8

I find it fascinating how Ben Watt has spent years building his DJ creds, but his solo work so far has nothing to do with the club.

Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to the Earth, April 15

Sturgill Simpson + concept album via Marvin Gaye = Take my money, please!

Rufus Wainwright, Take All My Loves: Nine Shakespeare Sonnets, April 22

I put more stock in Rufus Wainwright’s classical creds than any other pop star because his first effort in the genre was a full-blown opera.

UA, JaPo, May 11

I wondered where UA has been. She deserved a long break after more than a decade of releasing albums year after year. But which UA are we going to get — the adventurer or the tunesmith?

Ty Herndon, TBD, May 15

At the end of his El Corazón acoustic set back in Feb. 2016, Ty Herndon announced his new album would arrive on May 15, his first since coming out in 2014.

Vinyl

Sade, The Best of Sade, March 11

I already have the first three Sade albums on vinyl, and this compilation pretty much covers those albums. I don’t really need this record, but … I want it.

Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose, March 18

Has it really been more than a decade since Loretta Lynn did that whole thing with Jack White?

Janet Jackson, Unbreakable, April 1

I imagine all the clogged up record pressing plants prevented this album from being released at the same time as the CD.

Sonic Youth, Sister, April 8

Gradus ad Daydream Nation.

Patty Griffin, 1000 Kisses, April 15

This reissue will do nicely till Flaming Red gets somewhere on the release schedule.

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Favorite Edition 2015: Year final

[Lin-Manuel Miranda - Hamilton]

I didn’t think a comeback this year could top the return of Sleater-Kinney, but I was mistaken. I didn’t realize how much I had missed Janet Jackson till she returned, and Enya quenched a drought of a similar length (7 years.) Even Madonna turned in work that’s some of her best in a while. I also learned the awful term “PBR&B”, which describes the kind of R&B music to which I seem to be drawn.

  1. Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton: An American Musical: The last time the score of a musical had me riveted to my stereo was The Phantom of the Opera. Not only is the story of Hamilton thrilling to follow, but the hip-hop score is jaw-dropping. Policy debates as rap battles? Maybe that should happen in real life.
  2. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly: Just about every year-end list will include this album near the top. And I don’t even listen that much hip-hop.
  3. Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
  4. Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free: It’s always great to see an artist with a breakthrough album follow up with something just as strong.
  5. Torche, Restarter
  6. Björk, Vulnicura: So now the question is which do you prefer: Vulnicura or Vulnicura Strings?
  7. Deebs and Jarell Perry, Shift: I like how Jarell Perry keeps pushes the borders of what R&B can do. He’s got great company with Shaprece, Santigold, Miguel and Frank Ocean, WHEREVER THE HELL HE IS.
  8. Steve Grand, All-American Boy: I still don’t understand why people call him a country artist. He sounds nothing like Sturgill Simpson.
  9. Janet Jackson, Unbreakable: Janet returns with her most sonically diverse album since The Velvet Rope.
  10. Miguel, Wildheart: He bragged about being better than Frank Ocean, and I hate to say it, but I think there’s something behind that bravado.

Honorable mention goes to …

  • Madonna, Rebel Heart
  • Duran Duran, Paper Gods: Duran Duran tends to misstep after hitting a home run, but that’s not the case here.
  • Enya, Dark Sky Island: You know what you’re getting with Enya. On a few tracks, she does seem to be dipping a tentative toe into more pop styles, by which I mean less Bach.
  • Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit: Barnett crams a lot of imagery in her songs, but they make for great stories.
  • ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, Wonder Future: When ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION take time with their albums, it really pays off.
  • Kronos Quartet, Tundra Songs: No, this isn’t an international crossover album. If anything, it’s some of the most challenging music the quartet has recorded in a while.
  • Seattle Symphony / Ludovic Morlot, Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 / Varese: Ameriques: This album is something of a souvenir for me because I attended this concert, but the live recording of Ameriques would be reason enough to pick it up.
  • Takaakira “Taka” Goto, Classical Punk and Echoes Under Beauty: I didn’t think this album would be very distinct from MONO, but it’s quite a change for Taka and still recognizably him.
  • Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear: This album will also appear on a lot of year-end lists, but it didn’t grab me as much as everything else on the list.

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Looking Ahead: August-October 2015

[The Replacements - The Twin/Tone Years]

During the summer, everyone is touring, or gearing up for the fall release schedule. So there’s not much to seek out over the next few months. I do find it surprising that news about fall releases has been pretty scant.

Shiina Ringo, “Nagaku Mijikai Matsuri / Kamisama, Hotokesama”, Aug. 5

Is another album on the way? This single would be the third Ringo-chan has released since her last studio album, Hi Izuru Tokoro.

The Replacements, The Twin/Tone Years, Aug. 11

The Rhino-era albums have already undergone the vinyl reissue treatment, and the exorbitant prices for the Twin/Tone albums on the collector’s market certainly demonstrate a demand. So this set has been a long time coming.

Georg Holm, Orri Páll Dýrason, Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, Kjartan Holm, Circe, Aug. 28 (digital), Sept. 11 (physical)

Two members of Sigur Rós, plus the band’s touring guitarist team up with composer Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson for a soundtrack to a BBC documentary.

Everything But the Girl, Walking Wounded (Deluxe Edition), Sept. 11

The Salvo label in the UK finishes a reissue campaign of Everything But the Girl’s studio albums with Walking Wounded and Temperamental. I’m sticking with just Walking Wounded because Temperamental doesn’t age very well.

Duran Duran, Paper Gods, Sept. 11

All You Need Is Now restored my faith in the band after a long time meandering in the wild during the W. Bush era. The lead-off single from Paper Gods has enough Nile Rodgers to cue some Notorious nostalgia. The artwork, though, is the laziest I’ve seen on a Duran Duran album. Even Red Carpet Massacre showed more effort.

Janet Jackson, Unbreakable, Oct. 2

I didn’t realize how much I missed Janet till she announced her return. I have no idea what seven years has done for her music, and I kind of don’t care.

Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 4, Oct. 16

Górecki passed away before he could complete his fourth symphony, but a piano score with detailed annotations allowed his son Mikolaj to orchestrate it. Nonesuch is going ballers with this release by also reissuing the Symphony No. 3 on vinyl and compiling a box set of Górecki’s works recorded by the label. Let’s just call Oct. 16 Górecki Day.

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