After shocking the R&B world with 1986's Control -- a gutsy, risk-taking triumph that was a radical departure from her first two albums -- Michael and Jermaine Jackson's younger sister reached an even higher artistic plateau with the conceptual Rhythm Nation 1814. Once again, she enlists the help of Time graduates Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (one of the more soulful production/songwriting teams of 1980s and '90s R&B) with wildly successful results. In 1989, protest songs were common in rap but rare in R&B -- Janet Jackson, following rap's lead, dares to address social and political topics on "The Knowledge," the disturbing "State of the World," and the poignant ballad "Living in a World" (which decries the reality of children being exposed to violence). Jackson's voice is wafer-thin, and she doesn't have much of a range -- but she definitely has lots of soul and spirit and uses it to maximum advantage on those gems as well as nonpolitical pieces ranging from the Prince-influenced funk/pop of "Miss You Much" and "Alright" to the caressing, silky ballads "Someday Is Tonight," "Alone," and "Come Back to Me" to the pop/rock smoker "Black Cat." For those purchasing their first Janet Jackson release, Rhythm Nation would be an even wiser investment than Control -- and that's saying a lot.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson