Review Summary: Rhythm Nation comes with hits so big and production so fresh, you would think it'd be a contender for best album of 2008, much less 1989
The eighties were just wrapping up and another Jackson was putting the final touches on her big decade. Her first three albums saw moderate success and put her out of her brother's shadow and into the mainstream. Rhythm Nation put the exclamation point on her career, it exploded her into the public eye through the medium of thematic videos and a record amount of singles. The album itself is powered by the quality invested in it, top notch production from Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and a musically diverse collection of songs flowing with the natural talent Jackson possesses make for a work of many natures. Rhythm Nation is the concerned lover (*Black Cat"), the socially conscious activist ("State of the World", and the fun loving youth ("Escapade") all in one nicely packed black and white package.
"We are a nation with no geographic boundaries/bound together through our beliefs" introduces the piece with "Pledge". The sentiments are heavily reflected with the first song and eventual number two single, "Rhythm Nation". The song itself combines (as mentioned) heavy, fast paced production and a group sung chorus; the end result is a catchy, smart single which would appease the Jackson haters and delight the fans, sure she has this extraordinary song, but her perceived image of being a one hit wonder still lingers at this point, does Rhythm Nation 1814 have anything else to offer?
As it turns out, yes. "State of the World" keeps the upbeat motion that Rhythm Nation begins, but with more of a socially conscious twist. It shares with the preceding track a groovy beat and dancability, but takes it to another direction lyrically and shows the caring side of Janet Jackson. While it is her forte, dance pop is not the only thing being played and expressed here, "Black Cat shows a shining contrast to that. Propelled by a Jellybean Johnson face melting guitar solo and Janet delivering lines with sharp riffs, rock and roll lives and gives the listeners a fresh new style to enjoy. What all three of these songs have in common, and the big picture of the album overall, is that they are all hits. "Black Cat", "State of the Nation, "Rhythm Nation", "Miss You Much", "Love Will Never Do (Without You)", "Alright", and "Come Back to Me" all reached the Billboard's top 5 and displayed the musical and commercial popularity peak that Janet Jackson reached in this album (since the 80's only featured good music).
Another thing that has helped out this album stay so fresh is the way it is paced. A twenty track album would lead you to believe it's an eighty minute pop marathon with no room for breathing or memorable moments. Instead, the interludes actually help it by giving videos context to shoot it in, and also allows people to take a step back and absorb the surroundings in which this album was recorded under. A cultural time capsule of fine pop music this is, Rhythm Nation 1814 shows us how it earned that year of reference (the year the Star Spangled Banner was composed) as on the 18th of September 1989, Janet Jackson showed her own nation of groove. And it was good.