Janet Jackson - Doesn't Really Matter
Similar to Madonna, trying to find a link between the quality of a Janet Jackson track and its style is harder than you'd at first think. '93's "If" was stunningly hard, which led me to think that tough tracks were her strong point, but its '97 follow up "What About" was bad Alanis, and I'd been deliberately ignoring "Black Cat" anyway. At the other extreme, while "Again" from Janet was an awful sappy piano ballad, the crowning moment of The Velvet Rope was "Empty", which hid its balladic tendencies under layers of hyperspeed jungle beats, like an on-form LTJ Bukem writing an r&b track. On the same album though you'll find "Every Time", which seems to be a scientific experiment in magnifying "Again"'s flaws. Slow jams? "That's The Way Love Goes" was nice, but can you even remember "I Get Lonely"?
Janet's new single "Doesn't Really Matter" falls into none of these camps (although the production certainly takes its cues from "Empty") instead falling into the one vein which Janet has been consistantly poor in: up-tempo but lightweight pop. Need I remind you of "Runaway" or "Together Again"? Unsurprisingly then, this is excellent, the aural equivalent of gossamer feathers tickling your ear.
This success is the result of Jam and Lewis (I'm assuming) playing to Janet's limited strengths: her voice has always been laughably weak, so instead of trying for 'soulful' (read: distracted high-pitched mumbling) or 'strident' (read: barely audible whimper with studio-added throatiness), they've got her singing so fast and so high that it's just a pleasant silvery tinkle perfectly matched to the vaguely Oriental arrangement and wonderfully synthetic pizzicato strings. Even better, her vocals dovetail rhythmically in time to the exquisite Jerkins-style clutter-beats, putting this in the same league as "Are You That Somebody", "Bills, Bills, Bills" and "Bugaboo"; tracks which are almost impressive for their inventive vocal arrangements as their amazing productions.
The beats themselves are typical of Jam & Lewis's post-Timbaland style as was established on "Empty". It's hyper-syncopated and incredibly busy, perhaps more than that of any other R&B producer, but the rhythms aren't jarring like on Timbaland or Sh'ekspeare productions. The emphasis here is not on rhythmic intensity, but rather chromatic density; the beats are relaxing rather than energising, hovering lightly around your ears instead of twisting your hips, which is probably what puts me in mind of LTJ Bukem and other "deep" junglists.
I've completely ignored the other main ingredient here: this track, although too fast to sing along to easily, is as catchy as hell. The fact that it's pushing boundaries as well is just icing on the cake.