The Velvet Rope was a fairly bold move on Janet Jackson's part, as she got seriously sexy -- too serious, actually, since it had a fairly bitter tone, underscored by hints of perversity. Four years later, marked by one hidden marriage revealed through a divorce, Janet returned with All for You, an album that is as about sex as much as The Velvet Rope, yet there's a key difference -- it feels sexy, not pornographic. With her trusty collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in tow, she's created a record that's luxurious and sensual, spreading leisurely over its 70 minutes, luring you in even when you know better. And there are certainly moments that make you wish you knew better. For one, it's plotted like The Velvet Rope, filled with skits and deliberately recalling the record with its obsession with flesh and how it builds on '70s soul and soft rock. This time around, instead of Joni Mitchell, she appropriates America's "Ventura Highway" for "Someone to Call My Lover," one of the record's best cuts, and "interpolates" Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" on "Son of a Gun," with Simon singing and...well, I guess you could call it rapping...right along. The twist is, this is an anti-music industry song and a particularly foul-mouthed entry on the album, sitting comfortably alongside another industry song, the slow groove "Truth." And that fills out the three main themes of the album -- divorce, industry, and sex -- with a little bit of love on the side. These keep things humming throughout this overly sultry, overlong album, which intrigues with its very texture even as it lulls at its length. After all, there's a lot to be said for texture, and All for You is alluring, easily enveloping the listener. Though it's hardly as explicit as The Velvet Rope, apart from a section where she proclaims "I just want to suck you, taste you, ride you, feel you, make you come -- come inside of me" (mind you, this album did not have a parental advisory sticker on its first pressings), this is her sexiest-sounding record, thanks to Jam and Lewis' silky groove and her breathy delivery, two things that make the record palatable throughout too many spoken interludes and songs that just don't quite click. Even if there is a fair share of filler, this is hardly as strained as The Velvet Rope (though in many respects, it's every bit as self-conscious), and there's an ease to its construction, topped off by such songs as "All for You" and "Doesn't Really Matter" that maintain Janet, Jam, and Lewis' reputation as the leading lights of contemporary urban soul. It'd be nicer if the album was leaner, concentrating on just the great songs, but indulgence is what this record encourages. Janet sprawls out throughout the album, indulging her whims, desires, and fantasies, but -- fortunately for us -- her indulgences are alluring in their self-absorption. Of course, it helps to have Jam and Lewis on your side to articulate your indulgence.
All for You
(Digital Download - Virgin #)