The Oregonian - July 6 2001 - By Marty Hughley!
Janet Jackson long has seemed like the sort who likes a challenge.
After all, she made her music-biz breakthrough with her third album, 1984's "Control," on which she boldly asserted independence from her family and took on the task of changing her cutesy child-star image. And for years she continued to push herself, pushing her way out of the Jackson 5 family shadow by making albums that weren't just collections of pop hits but thematically driven personal statements, mounting state-of-the-art tours, acting opposite the charismatic thug-as-artiste Tupac Shakur in "Poetic Justice," etc.
In a year where she'll be up against a long-awaited new album from her illustrious brother Michael, and given the competitive streak that runs in the family, it's tempting to think that it's no coincidence she's followed 1997's risky and risque "The Velvet Rope" with the more accessible, milquetoast sensuality of the recent "All for You."
In any event, the "All for You" World Tour 2001, which visits the Rose Garden arena Saturday night in only its second date, presents the pop/R&B superstar with a new challenge: How do you mount a boffo stage show built around such a boring album?
To be fair, it should be pointed out straightaway that Jackson has a pretty strong track record when it comes to the stage show part. When her "Velvet Rope" Tour came to town in the summer of 1998, it was an ambitious and elaborate presentation that at its best set a new standard for arena-pop spectacle -- not so much for pyrotechnics, hydraulics and other mechanistic bells and whistles so prevalent these days, but for the hip and confidently executed choreography, the thematic set pieces that divided the performance into storylike chapters, and, above all, the musicianship that brought Jackson's very studiofied sound to lithe and muscular life onstage.
And, too, not everyone considers "All for You" such a dud, apparently; it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, has sold more than 2 million copies in two months and remains in the Top 20.
But the album is little more than a weak echo of 1993's "janet," the album on which the singer celebrated an apparently late sexual awakening. This time, it's her post-divorce album, in which she revels in the pleasures of dating and resulting connections that are sometimes profound but more often superficial.
Divorce may play a part in the superficiality in another way: Jackson no longer is collaborating with Rene Elizondo Jr., her ex-husband. The two secretly were married for years before admitting as much, and though only "The Velvet Rope" lists him as a co-writer, Jackson has admitted that he helped write her songs for years while disavowing credit. The glaringly unimaginative lyrics and melodies on "All for You" suggest that perhaps Elizondo was a crucial part of the creative team.
At any rate, with a few machine-funk exceptions, "All for You" trades in come-hither balladry and silky, slight sonic textures. These simply aren't the sort of things that translate well to the subtlety-swallowing spaces of an arena.
And yet, Jackson retains some distinct advantages. She's a seasoned and commanding performer, an engaging dancer and, though far from a vocal powerhouse, someone who can convincingly deliver anything from breathy whispers to soulful confessions to angry declarations. Plus, she has a great catalog of hits to fall back on, from "What Have You Done for Me Lately" to "Got 'Til It's Gone."
She might well be up to the challenge.