Much of modern R&B is crafted with a sense of where the music should be played rather than created strictly for music’s sake. Janet Jackson’s last two albums were pure bedroom material, a vast change from her late ‘80s and early ‘90s work; audiences have not been extremely accepting of her peccadilloes and steamy urges. “Discipline” has its S&M and bondage themes but it might as well be subtitled “The Escalade Album.” It begs to be heard through eight distinct channels, a 7.1 sound celebration that catches Janet cooing in the front, the jeep beats rattling the back seats and synthesized vocals and instruments swelling up from the floorboards. When the driver shuts off the ignition, though, the music – and even the memory of the music – vanishes.
Nothing on “Discipline” sticks to noggin or any other body part, although it hits its lowpoint early with the first single “Feedback,” which has little connection musically with the rest of the album. For the most part, this is club music to sway to while navigating traffic — until she gets to the ballads toward the end of the disc. Despite those ballads, it’s an impersonal album, one that find lust, subservience and the dance floor making odd musical bedfellows. Her producers are far too keen on moving bedroom sentiments to the dance floor and despite her pleas for pleasure in “2nite” or the post-coital relaxer “Can’t Be Good,” it feels like forced eroticism. There are hooks galore in “Discipline’s” songs, several of which take their cues from Earth, Wind & Fire and brother Michael’s post-“Thriller” work, but Jackson has not come up with a propulsive gem. She’s more comfortable sliding to the back of a song and enjoying the ride — or at least producers Ne-Yo, Tricky Stewart, Stargate and Jermaine Dupri have placed her there, where their work can drive each song. That a personality blossoms on the ballads — let’s assume it’s her — suggests there’s a whole other album dying to come out. But for that, she’d have to take charge ort least bring back the men who made her, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, into the picture.