Album Review: Design Of A Decade 1986-1996

Many who know my writings are aware of the support I have given to Janet Jackson for her stellar career as a musician [1], but I have not given a detailed review of her music.  Having failed to win a free copy of Janet Jackson’s multi-platinum compilation album Design Of A Decade 1986-1996, but seeing the price was low, I decided to add it to an Amazon run, and I think it would be worthwhile to share my thoughts on the album on a track-by-track level as we look at the most notable music from the artist from her period of biggest fame, although she has a lot of successful albums that are not represented here and likely will deserve a multi-disk box set retrospective at the end of her career whenever she decides to call it a day.  Here is a track-by-track review:

Runaway:  The first of two unreleased songs on this compilation, this song was a deserved big hit when the album was released.  The instrumental track has a hint of world beat influences and Janet’s voice is smooth and beautiful, making it an immensely enjoyable song and a worthy beginning of the album as a whole, showing Janet in a happy mood overall.

What Have You Done For Me Lately?:  The first of six songs included from Control, this song is a pointed kiss-off that expresses the gap between the way a relationship is seen from the outside and how it is viewed by a very dissatisfied partner.  The song is a spare one with a focus on rhythm and fairly simple melodies and spoken word elements, and it is pretty easy to see why this song caught on.

Nasty:  The second song included in this compilation from Control, this song is another rhythmically driven song that focuses on nasty boys.  The vocal effects are striking and the song can be taken as the singer’s ode to nasty guys who never change.  The singer details that she wants privacy and respect, and finds it hard to get those from the guys who show interest in her.  This is likely a pretty common problem, hence the popularity of the song.

When I Think Of You:  The third song included in this compilation from Control, this song is more of a ballad than the previously included songs.  It is a testament to the work of the singer and her fellow co-writers that the ballad has some angular and driving beats that make this a pleasing ballad long after it was released to general acclaim and widespread popularity.

Escapade:  The first song of seven included from Rhythm Nation 1814, this is a beautiful song and certainly one of my favorites from the singer.  Indeed, the theme of the song and its combination of solid beats and beautiful melodies reminds me a great deal of Runaway, the opening song of this compilation, and anything that reminds me of Runaway is definitely doing a good job.  Unsurprisingly, this song was a massive hit.

Miss You Much:  Another song from Rhythm Nation, this song has driving beats and the singer’s usual swagger.  This song is an S.O.S. of sorts from the singer to a partner reminding him, if such a reminder was necessary, that the singer is not someone who likes to be left alone.  Why someone would do that is a mystery to me.

Love Will Never Do (Without You):  The third song included from Rhythm Nation 1814 finds the singer in a reflective mood thinking that love will never do without the one she is in love with.  The song is surprisingly playful and the singer’s giggling and the driving beat save it from the maudlin treatment that the subject matter would likely receive from most other singers.

Alright:  The fourth song from Rhythm Nation included here, this song sounds like a lot of the other songs from the album, but that’s not a bad thing.  Janet Jackson has a powerful presence and the song features her singing and spoken-word lyrics and the music is excellent, given that the song’s sentiment is that things are alright with her.

Control:  The title track from Control, this song expresses the singer’s desire for control over both her personal and professional life, telling a story of her uncertain beginnings in show business and the reason for her attitude and her serious drive for respect, something which happens to continue to the present day.

The Pleasure Principle:  A lovely synth melody introduces this song from Control, as the singer rather forcefully details a story about the pleasure that one seeks in a relationship rather than the sort of calming of insecurities that tends to happen often.  After the struggles and difficulties of her life, personal and professional, it is little wonder that the singer would seek to find a release from these pressures in her relationships.

Black Cat:  The fifth song from Rhythm Nation 1814, this song has a really sassy sound and a really driving beat that might be as close to rock and roll that Janet Jackson ever got.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that Janet takes the driving rock beats of the time and makes a credible rock & roll singer in her performance, making this a stellar track, if one that isn’t really played a lot nowadays.

Rhythm Nation:  The title track from Rhythm Nation 1814, and it is a driving and inspirational type of track.  While the United States might not have been a rhythm nation at the time when the album was made, it is without a question that the United States is a rhythm nation now, where even country artists seek to appropriate trap beats in order to maintain relevance.  Sadly, that has not given Janet Jackson the respect she deserves as a prophetess of sorts of this development, but that’s the way life goes.

That’s The Way Love Goes:  The only song on this compilation from the successful multi-platinum album janet., this song has a smooth and sensual appreciation of intimacy in one’s present relationship.  As might be expected, the song has a gorgeous melody and some strong beats, and the whispered lyrics are an excellent touch.  This is certainly a worthwhile song, although it would have been nice to have at least a couple more songs from this album to balance out the ones from Control and Rhythm Nation 1814.

Come Back To Me:  The seventh song from Rhythm Nation 1814 on this album, this song begins with some vocal self-harmonies that introduce this song as a touching ballad seeking the return of a departed lover.  Although the song is a ballad, the general rhythmic focus of Janet’s music keeps this from being overly melancholy, which is good because the lyrics revel in abandonment and sadness.

Let’s Wait Awhile:  This may be my favorite song ever from Janet Jackson, as unusual as that may seem because the song shows the fragility of Janet’s voice as she tries to deal with an overly ardent lover, urging them to wait a while before intimacy.  One can hear that despite Janet’s reputation for being a bit aggressive when it came to sexuality that she is a woman too with wounds from her own past experiences.

Twenty Fourplay:  It is interesting that this hitherto unreleased song follows Let’s Wait Awhile, because it reminds the listener that when she wanted to wait a while she didn’t want to wait forever.  This song, which was a minor hit, revels in sensuality and in showing the audience that Janet was indeed an adult.  This side of Janet led, unfortunately, a few years later to that unfortunate incident at the Super Bowl.

In looking at this album as a whole, it is based a bit too heavily on the Control and Rhythm Nation 1814 albums, although these had some stellar songs.  This is in general an enjoyable album if one happens to like Janet Jackson’s music.  Her hits from the first part of the first decade of her career are here, the new tracks offer some confidence and sensuality, and the influence of her rhythmic approach to music as well as the vocal effects and spoken word ad libs are here for listeners to enjoy.  If you don’t happen to own Control and Rhythm Nation this is certainly a worthwhile beginning to one’s Janet Jackson music collection.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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4 Responses to Album Review: Design Of A Decade 1986-1996

  1. Mike says:

    Design of a Decade was released on A&M records in 1996. A&M released Janet’s first 4 studio albums. Janet departed A&M in 1992 for Virgin records. Inking a record-setting contract.
    1993’s “janet.” was another monster smash for Janet, but Virgin wouldn’t allow more than 1 track from that album to appear on Design of a Decade.

    So, that’s kinda the story behind that. I agree, though – Design would certainly feel more complete with the additional singles from ‘93-94. It’s pretty stellar as is, though.

    You should pick up Number Ones next. Janet’s catalog is massive and incredibly impressive! #InductJanet

    • Yes, I agree that Number Ones is likely to be my next Janet album to review, although it is pretty likely I will look at The Velvet Rope or All For You or her last couple of albums (including the one she is currently working on).

      • Mike says:

        My personal preference ranking:

        The Velvet Rope
        Rhythm Nation 1814
        Damita Jo
        All For You
        20 Y.O.
        Janet Jackson
        Dream Street

      • Poor Dream Street, it always does seem to lag behind the others in popularity. Anyway, I added Unbreakable and Number One to my cart, so on my next Amazon run I’ll have those two albums to review at least :).

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