After a decade of Paramilitary Pep and Kink Lite, Janet Jackson tries on the costume of the Boudoir Belletrist on her new album, The Velvet Rope.

As entrancing an album as it is, the most twisted thing about The Velvet Rope is how it eludes genre-fication. We're used to thinking of Janet as straight-up pop-soul, but she sounds nothing like the Braxtons, Careys, or Vogues...much less Boys II Men or Ushers. The crown of R&B, of which she should be an inheritor, rests in the court of Mary J. Blige and R. Kelly, with Aaliyah the princess and Bone Thugs 'n' Harmony the ragamuffin jesters.

Finally doing her own thing, Janet is left in a genre of her own. Of course, this leaves her vulnerable to the Houston (we have a) Problem: the trap of playing the star for stardom's sake. And no amount of shockadelica can solve that. In the end, it's the impure, flawed sweetness of Janet's voice that keeps her human, the velvet rope that keeps her tied to the things of this world.

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