She may be Miss Jackson, especially if you're nasty, but Judge Bill Gibron intends to stay on this superstar's good side...sort of.
All for you if you say you need it.
She's sultry and sexy, taking a couple of decades to finally come out of her flawed familial shell. She has celebrated her corporeal needs as well as her desire for control. She proved that her brother's artistic eccentricity could be easily avoided, while seeming to embrace its oddness later in life. In fact, where once she was the dominant female personality in all of '80s/'90s divadom, she's long since relinquished her career crown to various booty-shaking newcomers. Yet there's one new thing we learn about Janet Jackson when it comes to this video document of her 2002 All for You Tour. No, it's not that she's getting more comfortable with her body; there's some partial nudity here. It's definitely not that she's avoiding her video babe image for the sake of creative integrity; her stage show is one big MTV recreation. It's not that she's limited when it comes to production value or budget; there are more costume and set changes here than in a standard Broadway production. True, in the six years since this concert tour, a lot has change in the performer's life—the secret marriage, the Super Bowl breast reveal, and the falling record sales—but the most revelatory eye-opener arrives the minute Ms. Jackson opens her mouth.
Clearly, this lifelong talent can sing; it's just that she has the smallest of celebrated voices. In fact, there are times throughout the hit-heavy set list when Jackson is just plain unimpressive. When we think of high-profile R&B stars, we envision Aretha Franklin belting out the soul, or, in a more modern setting, Mariah Carrey caterwauling those lung-powered high notes. American Idol sells us on the gospel-tinged going-overboard quality of post-modern vocalizing, and many of the new breed embrace power instead of purity. Janet Jackson, on the other hand, has the perfect studio setting sound. Place her inside a Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis-produced backdrop and watch the emotional envelopment transform the tune. Even when matched against famous hip-hop stars, her luxuriant aural qualities are never diminished. But live, especially in this showboating showcase, her singing disappears. It often sounds lip-synched, layered in between the keyboard fills and taped orchestration. While there's no denying the chart-topping nature of the tunes, her interpretation of them is more mild than wild. For those who are interested, here's the telling track list:
• "Come On Get Up"—from the 2001 album All For
With such a tune-heavy spectacle, one would assume that Live from Hawaii is wall-to-wall sound. Actually, that's partly true. The backing band delivers decent recreations of Jam and Lewis's dense studio shoutouts, and the supporting singers accent the melodies magnificently. Yet many of the older hits—especially from Control and Rhythm Nation 1814, are relegated to medleys, meaning that the minute Jackson grows tired of the tune, we careen wildly into the next. This is especially obvious during the neverending whirling dervish dance numbers. Required to mimic the music videos that made her a superstar, it is rare when she stops and simply lets her personality and presence shine through. It does happen—there is a moment during a three-song ballad overview when it's just the singer, a stool, and an acoustic guitar accompanist. It works well…that is, until Jackson turns the majority of the singing over to her overly enthusiastic audience. Sure, she deserves the rest. But she's still got another 75 minutes of show to go. It's clear she works very hard for her mega-multi-millions.
Then there's that underwhelming quality to her voice. Jackson has made good use of the whisper to a scream value of her personal musicianship, adding layers of sensitivity and sensuality to even the most mundane lyrics. But live, her minor timber is totally enveloped in a blatant bombast that drowns out even the biggest blast. It's not that she can't sing; it's just that she doesn't have the chops to raise the roof and rip off the rafters. The song selection underserves her as well. The reliance on the album All for You is excusable—after all, she's trying to sell CDs here. But with a huge catalog to choose from, there's a patchwork implausibility to the experience. One moment we're in for an erotic slow burn. The next we're lost in goofy stage production fantasy. Covered in sweat and decked out in revealing garb, Jackson is more of a stripper than siren. Yet Live from Hawaii still finds a way to entertain, even when its star barely shimmers. It's hard to hate Janet Jackson, but as a live performer, her limitations far outweigh her strengths.
Given a wonderful 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen sparkle, the transfer of this six-year-old concert by Eagle Vision is excellent. There are lots of details here, and a crystal clarity to the overall look. There is some staged material incorporated into the show (the opening naked run, some behind the scenes costume changes), but for the most part, it looks live and caught in the act. As for the aural aspects, the amazingly immersive Dolby Digital DTS surround track really gives you the theatrical experience. We feel lost in the crowd, enveloped in a pure wave of musical radiance. The 4.1 and 2.0 mixes are good, but stick with the high-end sound situation: you'll be glad you did. As for extras, there is a chance to hear Jackson discuss her past, present, and future. She is open about her life and her love of the audience. Amazingly enough, it avoids the obvious electronic press-kit puffery of its creation to give us some intriguing insights into the artist.
Janet Jackson may have fallen far from her musical mountaintop since this six-year-old show. Her last three albums—2004's Damita Jo, 2006's 20 YO, and 2008's Discipline—have all underperformed, and there was a time when a rap star couldn't release a single without finding the descending dame's voice somewhere in the mix. While it all smacked of desperation, the fact remains that Janet Jackson is a true talent and music industry icon. Live in Hawaii is a legitimate look at her past. Too bad it reveals more than is mandatory.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
• Interview Featurette
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