Posted on November 19, 2019
Reviewed: Damita Jo by Janet Jackson (2006)
I almost don’t want to review this album after revisiting this revisitation by Pitchfork from earlier this year. It’s a spot-on analysis from a relatively objective source instead of a ravenous fan.
Shoving that thoughtful review at you absolves me of all the meta-analysis. I guess.
For my part, I think Damita Jo is a fantastic and unique record for Janet. It was the beginning of a three-album arc away from Jimmy & Terry, and while the other two records yielded decidedly mixed results, Damita Jo clearly benefits from the creative new blood. Dallas Austin, Scott Storch, Kanye West, and others pitched in to push Janet into new sonic territory. Jam & Lewis were never far, collaborating on most but not all of the tracks.
Thematically, Janet meditates on the universality of love, a clear riff on the theme of The Velvet Rope, which was about acceptance. The theory is that all of us, but Janet in particular, cultivate different personas; these personas all take different tacks toward looking for that love (and, not incidentally, sex). Janet introduces us to Damita Jo and Strawberry, two of her shadow alter egos, in the early songs, but then allows us to infer what parts of her personality are at play as she lounges in the Caribbean, steams up the dance floor, and graphically narrates her amorous adventures throughout the rest of the record.
The music sounds different. But the tone is also new. Her five blockbuster albums from Control to All For You were diligently on the move at all times, from the fast side to the slow side, from the chorus to the bridge, from one mood to another, often with explicit directions included (“Get the point? Good, let’s dance.”) Janet got shit done on her records.
On Damita Jo, for the first time, Janet is unapologetically self-indulgent. It’s a post-IDGAF world for Janet. The new Janet/Damita Jo/Strawberry combo lingers and luxuriates. She performs two entire songs about highly specific sex acts. She gives a monologue about how much she loves dusk. She hammers home the same looping refrain on “All Nite (Don’t Stop).” And so on. After nearly two decades of trying to impress everyone, it seems to click for her that she’s an established artist who can actually meditate and fixate, and not worry who sees her staring.
There’s too many highlights to mention, so I’ll limit my mentions to a top two and a bottom two. “Strawberry Bounce” is a sneaky earworm that gets better with each repeat. “Truly” is a sparse, gorgeous Michael-esque performance filled out with Janet-esque harmonies. And at least five other tracks are as good as those two.
On the other end of the spectrum, “Thinkin’ Bout My Ex” just sounds like Janet checking Babyface off her bucket list rather than an inspired collaboration. It’s also a very safe arrangement on an otherwise adventurous record.
It’s followed by “Warmth,” one of the two sex songs mentioned above. It’s the only meditation of the bunch that stalls a bit too long on its fixation. Once you get over the oh-my-god-she’s-singing-about-THAT moment, there’s not a lot else going on sonically.
Of course, any review of Damita Jo has the duty to mention that its success was artificially stunted by the post-Super Bowl blacklisting and backlash. I won’t carry on about what could have been. Instead, I’ll mention what actually was–a fully realized Janet, comfortable on record as never before, having fun and taking names.