The ultimate blame for the album's failure must lie with Janet because the hired help is certainly beyond reproach. "Discipline" features contributions from some of the hottest producers on the planet. If anything the whole project is a little too slick - as if it were put together by a corporate committee. It's certainly telling that Janet completely abdicated songwriting duties this time around. She seems to have left everything to the experts and lost herself in the process. My other major concern with "Discipline" is Janet's refusal to move away from the slow jams that strangled the life out of "20 Y.O." and her increasingly annoying whispered vocals. Janet has always had a reed thin voice but usually covers it well with clever production. This time around, Janet is happy to mumble her way through the album. Then there are the pointless interludes. The practice is tired and, in the case of "Bathroom Break", downright embarrassing. It's only a small gripe but symptomatic of Janet's habit of recycling old ideas. I don't want to be too negative because "Discipline" is a step in the right direction. Here is my track by track review.
Feedback - 9/10
"Feedback" was slammed by most critics as derivative rubbish but I loved it from the first listen, hence its appearance in my best of 2007 countdown. After two albums of dreary sex ballads and stillborn mid-tempo jams, the return of dance Janet came as a massive relief. Rodney Jerkins has produced a storming club anthem that can best be described as urban house music. Think of this as the album's "All Nite (Don't Stop)" or "So Excited". The video is an embarrassment but the chorus is fantastically catchy and Janet's dirty mouth never fails to amuse. It annoys me when people say Janet is too old to sing about her gushing period and sleazy bedroom antics. Old ladies need loving too! Many reviewers referred to the track as second rate Britney but I don't see it. "Feedback" is better than anything on "Blackout" and is quite simply Janet's best single since "All For You". If only the album contained more material in this vein.
LUV - 8/10
Another Rodney Jerkins production, "LUV" is something of a grower. I wasn't overly impressed by the song on the first listen but it now stands out as one of the few highlights on "Discipline". A bouncy little pop tune with a catchy hook, "LUV" sounds fresh and contemporary. The lyrics are pretty inane and Janet whispers her way through the track but the production pops and the beats are layered with clinical precision. American urban pop by the numbers but this little ditty is entirely inoffensive. "LUV" is already charting on the US R'n'B charts and is a safe bet for a future single.
Rollercoaster - 3/10
Just when you thought Janet had turned her back on the mid-tempo sludge that polluted her last flop album, "Rollercoaster" drags the listener kicking and screaming back to the aural hell that was "20 Y.O." A headache inducing "jam" with no semblance of a chorus or melody, "Rollercoaster" represents everything wrong with Janet's recent output. It sounds like 50 different samples have been thrown in blender before Janet was dragged into the studio to lay down the vocal after swallowing a bucket of Valium. This is one ride I won't be taking again.
Rock With U - 9.5/10
Moving from the ridiculous to the sublime, "Rock With U" is the best song on "Discipline" and one of Janet's finest offerings in many a year. Janet must have threatened to throw away her 12" inch strap-on if husband Jermaine Dupri failed to deliver the goods this time around because "Rock With U" is something of a triumph. Following the robotic theme of the interludes, this sleek anthem is an effortlessly cool slice of futuristic disco. I love the vocoder effects and the clear influence of French house. This is also a rare example of Janet successfully walking the line between sexy and sleazy. "Rock With U" wouldn't sound out of place on Kylie's "X" and I mean that as a huge compliment. A video clip has just been filmed and this looks to be Janet's second single in most territories. Expect Janet's string of massive flops to end with this gem.
2nite - 7/10
"Discipline" features contributions from some of hottest producers in the industry including this pleasant offering from Stargate, the Norwegian team behind Rihanna's "Don't Stop The Music" and Beyonce's "Irreplaceable". Sadly, "2nite" fails to match the dizzying heights of those two tunes. The song is another fun dance entry but the endeavour is entirely forgettable. I'm not sure if they were going for a retro vibe or just giving Janet their old scraps but "2nite" sounds very dated. The lyrics are cute and Janet actually bothers to sing instead of mumble but I can't help but feel I've heard it all before.
Can't B Good - 4/10
What an appropriate title. Janet reverts back to dreary ballad mode with a fairly typical slow jam, complete with soulless beats and whispered vocals. I miss the days when Janet actually attempted to belt out a tune. Lord knows, she's no La Toya but Janet can do better than this. "Can't B Good" is reminiscent of the ballads on Michael's "Invincible" album - ie. boring and uninspired.
Never Letchu Go - 3/10
Jermaine Dupri's second offering is a complete stinker. Obviously "Rock With U" was a fluke because, quite simply, this track stinks. Another weak ballad with almost indistinguishable vocals, "Never Letchu Go" sounds like a reject from "20 Y.O." only with an embarrassing guitar solo that is very 80s and not in a good way. When is Janet going to learn her lesson? Whispered ballads, plodding beats and empty lyrics just aren't good enough. This shit is more tired than Janet's gimp.
Greatest X - 6/10
Many fans have selected "Greatest X" as their favourite song from "Discipline". One critic even had the nerve to compare it to Timbaland's "Apologize". Sure, and "Nu-Di-Ty" is the new "Can't Get You Out Of My Head". Produced by R'n'B superstar The-Dream, "Greatest X" is one of the sweetest slow jams on "Discipline" but it still lacks the emotional punch to be anything but mediocre. Unlike the two proceeding ballads, this effort is well constructed and Jan at least tries to sound invested in the lyrics. This has grown on me with each listen, so maybe I'm being too harsh. I just think three generic ballads in a row is too much of an ask, particularly after the fine selection of dance tracks at the beginning of the album.
So Much Betta - 4.5/10
After three ballads, "So Much Betta" changes the tempo again. Unfortunately the results are less than impressive. Continuing with the album's robotic theme, this misguided effort features grating computer effects and a lazy Daft Punk sample. Kanye West has a lot to answer for. There is no chorus to speak of and the lyrics are a repetitive bore. Think of this Jermaine Dupri produced mishap as little more than an extended interlude.
Do you like my style? Yeah that sexy, sexy, sexy
The 1 - 6/10
I gave this generic effort an extra point for Missy Elliot's amusing opening rhyme: "Tell me how long is it, boo? 7 inches, yep that'll do!" Unfortunately, it all goes downhill from there. Another Jermaine Dupri production, "The 1" is an uptempo song in desperate need of a chorus. Missy Elliot's appearance is a welcome distraction but even she can't compensate for the overbearing production and complete absence of anything resembling a hook. It really is hard to believe that the same man produced "Rock With U". Perhaps a remix could breath some life into this stale offering.
What's Ur Name - 3/10
Another expedition into the wasteland of mid-tempo R'n'B previously explored on "20 Y.O." This time around Janet repeats the song title 30 or so times against a hollow groove courtesy of her career killing husband. "What's Ur Name" isn't awful. It's just insipid and utterly pointless.
Discipline - 1/10
I would rather drink Janet's first day period than listen to this creepy exercise in disturbing mental imagery ever again. Actually, I'm not sure what's worse. The song or the preceding interlude where Janet moans breathlessly about using a whip for "self-mortification". At least the interlude only lasts for a minute, while this drags on for a seemingly endless 5 minutes. Janet begins the song by apologising for touching herself before begging to be punished. I'm all for sleazy lyrics but moaning "Daddy, make me cry" turns my stomach - even if she is referring to her troll like husband instead of her abusive father, Joe. Annoyingly, the production is spot on. This would be one hell of a sexy affair with a little less information and a different singer. As it stands, "Discipline" is a cringeworthy trainwreck. I'm all for Janet exploring her sexuality but she's already covered this particular fetish on "The Velvet Rope". This has definite so bad it's good potential.
Her swag is serious
Curtains - 7.5/10
I feared this was going to be an ode to Jan's meat curtains but it turns out to be a fairly pleasing sex ballad about fucking a fan backstage after a concert. Unlike the other slow jams littering "Discipline", "Curtains" displays some soul. The music delicately wraps itself around Janet's whispered vocals and the trumpet-like hook is a treat. Janet finally comes across as fun and sexy instead of demented and desperate. Rodney Jenkins really stands out as the superior producer on "Discipline" and should be the only contributor Janet calls on for her next sex porn soundtrack. An unexpected delight.
Let Me Know - 5/10
It's somehow fitting that "Discipline" bows out with another exploration of Janet's prodigous sexuality. This is an entirely inoffensive affair. Janet promises to "play your favourite song, wear your favourite thong" before boasting about her familiarity with the karma sutra. We've heard it all before. This was tacked on in some territories as a bonus track, which is pretty reflective of its quality. Give this a miss and download the fabulous "Feedback" remixes instead. Like most of the album "Let Me Know" is sadly underwhelming.