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A quirky futuristic theme is our first image of Janet Jackson's new album. Song titles sound like IMs (or a grown-up's idea of them): "What's Ur Name," "Can't B Good." On opener "I.D.," the record purports to involve some sort of high-tech login process in which Janet must have her voice verified by a robot (this gatekeeper, who we learn is named "Kyoko," will turn up repeatedly on the CD). And Janet's circa-2040 thematic seems to get echoed in her oddball album-art outfits, which tend to involve patent-leather gloves and cinched black cords. Insert "wardrobe malfunction" joke here.

A lot of this is cringeworthy, mostly because it's just too easy to picture the proverbial room full of A&R people agreeing to make a "really modern" album. And yet, under the new guidance of Island Def Jam and its legend of a head honcho, L.A. Reid, Jackson nails it on the music end -- and nails the very modernity that's so clumsy in her packaging. Especially if you cut out the five weakest tracks (with 21, it's oddly long), Discipline is a far sharper effort than 2006 release 20 Y.O., which lacked a valuable hit and offered few new ideas to the R&B/club sound.

The star of the show is "Feedback," in which Janet jumps in on the budding Auto-Tune subgenre, that robotronic aesthetic founded by Cher and lately bolstered by the likes of Akon. One only hopes she doesn't credit this effect with the song's success. The appeal of "Feedback" is simpler and hardly time-sensitive: a taut, won't-quit beat with a uniquely sensual, sashaying chorus draped atop it. For all its futuristic trimmings -- various sizzling synthesizers also turn up -- the song works on much the same logic as a late-'80s Janet tune (a good development, by the way). "2Nite" is also, at heart, an '80s dance-pop grinder built with '00s materials (buzzing keyboards, snazzier beat production, high-gleam vocals).

Janet seems most comfortable in that role: the club star with real soul depth (or, to read it the opposite way, the R&B chanteuse who can do serious dance music). In other, apparently similar urban styles, she can seem surprisingly stiff. On "The 1," featuring Missy Elliott, she comes off as a bit too earnest for her essentially playful co-star. Yet just a track later, she's back in form. "What's Ur Name" turns out to be a ballad as only Janet can make it: snapping with beats but also sweaty and soft, equally suited to the club or whatever happens after.

By Jake Blaine

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Artist: Janet Jackson
Edited: N
Format: CD
Enhanced: N
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 02/26/2008
Shipping Weight (in pounds): 0.22
Product in Inches (L x W x H): 4.9 x 0.39 x 5.7
UPC: 0060251761355
1. I.D.
2. Feedback
3. Luv
4. Spinnin
5. Rollercoaster
6. Bathroom Break
7. Rock With U
8. 2nite
9. Can't B Good
10. 4 Words
11. Never Letchu Go
12. Truth Or Dare
13. Greatest X
14. Good Morning Janet
15. So Much Betta
16. Play Selection
17. The 1 - Featuring Missy Elliott
18. What's Ur Name
19. The Meaning
20. Discipline
21. Back
22. Curtains

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