Today we have the last album from the fun-loving and high-energy decade that was the 1980s. I started the ‘80s as a clueless pre-teen, and left the ‘80s as a newly employed and slightly less clueless college graduate, with no idea how much change was really coming my way. For this last album, we actually kick off the 1990s with the biggest selling album of 1990, “Rhythm Nation 1814” by Janet Jackson. This album had such a run of success that it became the first album to have #1 singles in three different years, 1989-1991. Produced as a concept album with interludes and introductions of songs interspersed with the music, the album featured Jackson’s increased interest in issues of social relevance.
To start, you have to acknowledge that the creation of this album, just like “Control”, is as much attributable to producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis as it is Janet Jackson. They cowrote all of the songs with or without Jackson, and are fully responsible for the tight blend of R&B, funk, soul and dance music that dominated the dance clubs for the entire run of this album. Following the initial interlude, the title track delivers perhaps the funkiest and most intense groove of the album. It centers around dance, but the tone of the music and lyrics appropriately set the stage for messages of a stronger and more substantive tone. This theme continues with “State of the World” and “The Knowledge”, with a very effective blend of dance funk and a sincere desire for an improved social state.
“Miss You Much” was the first of eight singles released from the album, and it was a massive hit to signal the release of this record. One of the most distinctive songs on this album, it was a great choice to pick as the first of many hits. Next comes the first love song of many on the album, but thankfully “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” is more interesting and alluring than the string of soft ballads that close the record. The same can’t be said for “Livin’ In A World (They Didn’t Make)”, the first song that I could have done without on this album.
“Alright” is another up-tempo dance track, and it is followed by my all-time favorite Janet Jackson song, “Escapade”. Something about the melody has always completely captured my attention, and the thumping beat is the perfect contrast to Janet’s incredibly sweet, hopeful and infectious vocals on this song. The chorus has a great hook, and as the story goes, this is a great celebration of spontaneous happiness.
“Black Cat” is the designated guitar-rocker of the album, somewhat reminiscent of “Dirty Diana” by her brother Michael. I had erroneously assumed there was a big-name cameo guitar appearance on this song, but in researching, at least I learned that the one and only Herb Alpert played trumpet and horns somewhere on this record, so that’s good enough for me.
As I noted, the last three ballads really slow things down, and while the songs aren’t unlistenable, they definitely soften (kill?) the vibe of this dance spectacular. I would have preferred they close things out with one last funk-tastic dance tune, but alas, it wasn’t to be. And with that, we say goodbye to the 1980s, even as this album’s reach extends well into the next decade.