Miniature Michaels have been bringing the sexy back to the Billboard Hot 100 recently Chris Brown, meet Mario and there's a consistent crop of baby Beyoncés too. But Cassie, Ciara and oy! the Pussycat Dolls are really only trickle-down versions of classic Ms. Jackson, and no one knows that better than Janet herself. That's why she can get away with a spoken-word intro on 20 Y.O., where she props herself for everything her music's covered over the years. And it's also why her versions of club bangers ("So Excited"), ballads ("With U," where she sounds like Mariah Carey covering classic Michael Jackson) and mid-tempo groove R&B ("Show Me") work so well: Janet's been doing this long enough to give these songs the depth they need to avoid becoming the continually resetting, youth-skewed blips that stagnate contemporary radio. Jermaine Dupri gets a nod too; not surprisingly he's the principal producer here, and while some of his moves on the board are too typically Jermaine, he has held enough tricks in check to make even the club-ready flash of the album's first half sound fresh. 20 Y.O. isn't flawless by any means whether it's market forces or Janet herself overstating her own relevance, some tracks ("Call on Me," for example) fall flat. But then there's that veteran know-how again, when at the end of the album "Take Care" and "Love 2 Love" recall the subtle allure of her best moments from 1997's Velvet Rope. No question, after 20 years, Janet Jackson has proven that she still has it.
Johnny Loftus is the music editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].