This lavish two-hour concert special, originally produced for HBO, offers ample proof of Janet Jackson's fierce ambitions. Whitney, Celine and Mariah can run circles around her small, sweet voice, but Janet brings a tough, muscular power to her live performances that none of those peers can approach, storming through myriad set and costume changes, and sustaining an aerobic pace through elaborate dance routines. As captured during this Madison Square Garden presentation of her Velvet Rope
tour, Janet Jackson is, ahem, very buff indeed, not just in her well-toned physical health, but in her vocal attack.
The Velvet Rope tosses up rappers, hard-rock heroism, melting romantic pop and Jackson's own brand of soft-core erotica, but the show transcends those components in its broad sense of spectacle. The star fronts a formidable battalion of dancers, singers and musicians to make her points, and while it's obvious that the musical performances have been nipped, tucked and polished to an acceptable sheen, Janet earns her props through sheer willpower.
Ranging across Jackson's best-known songs from the last decade, the production is noteworthy for its intricate choreography and massive settings, in which the star seeks to match the big-budget sweep of her music videos. The live troupe is formidable, composed of a crack band and a large cast of nimble dancers, and Janet keeps pace with her aerobic presence. We'll leave it to social scientists to ponder the significance of the "Rope Burn" sequence, in which an ecstatic male fan is lashed to a chair and gets to watch his favourite sex object pole-dance. If this stalwart is any indication, Janet has already won the hearts (and more) of her faithful. --Sam Sutherland, Amazon.com