At the beginning of the year, Janet Jackson’s “Discipline” was touted as one of 2008’s most anticipated releases. It was her first album for Island Def Jam after two consecutive albums on Virgin had met with dwindling sales in light of the infamous Super Bowl incident with Justin Timberlake. First single “Feedback” was widely blogged about, MTV lifted it’s ridiculous four-year ban on Jackson, and it seemed like the album was capable of restoring Janet to the heights she enjoyed as one of the biggest selling female artists of the Eighties and Nineties.

So, um…what happened?

Despite “Discipline”‘s #1 debut on the album charts, it quickly sank. Scanning close to 200,000 units in its first frame, it’s barely doubled that in the 3 1/2 months since. “Feedback” didn’t catch on at radio, despite a radio-baiting Timbaland remix featuring Ciara. None of the follow-up singles caught fire, either, as “Luv” met with a middling response at urban radio and its pop counterpart, “Rock With U” bombed. To add insult to injury, Janet’s found herself outsold by contemporaries like Madonna (ironically teaming up with Timberlake) and Mariah Carey, not to mention the reissue of the 25 year old “Thriller” album, which has scanned nearly 200,000 more copies than “Discipline” in roughly the same amount of time, with significantly less promotion.

Janet has resorted to the age-old artist trick of taking her label to task for what she calls inadequate promotion of the album, and has indicated that Island Def Jam is more or less pulling the plug on “Discipline”. Hell, if I was L.A. Reid, I’d probably do the same thing. I honestly don’t think the album’s relative lack of success has anything to do with the label’s efforts. They shot two videos, put Janet on just about every TV show they could think of, made nice with MTV and basically gave “Discipline” every chance to succeed.

At least some of the blame has to go with Janet herself. “Discipline”, while not an awful album by any means, isn’t the stylistic equal of Janet’s most successful work. “Control”, “Rhythm Nation”, “janet.” And “The Velvet Rope” were fairly ballsy works, even if they trafficked in the mainstream pop/R&B realm. Janet had her finger on the pulse of what worked at radio while still maintaining some semblance of artistic credibility. Her last two albums have reeked of flop sweat, from the duets with Nelly to the alignment with producers-of-the-moment on “Discipline”. It sounds like Janet chasing trends as opposed to setting them, something that is quite disappointing in light of these comments Janet made shortly before the release of “The Velvet Rope” in 1997.

“The applause will die. It happens to every single person in this business…It’s okay. I’d rather for people not know what I am, what I have, or who I am and to accept me for me”.

So, the question then becomes, can Janet get her groove back? While the days of Janet Jackson, world-class megastar are probably over, I don’t see why Janet can’t continue to put out Gold, if not Platinum albums (and “Discipline”should have no problem crossing the half-million mark once Janet goes on tour). Step one would probably be to go back to Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. The former Time members may not be the producers of the moment anymore, but they know Janet best. They bring out the artist in her. Think of the abomination that was “20 Y.O.” and remember that the album’s two best tracks, “Daybreak” and “Enjoy”, were Jam/Lewis tracks (with no Jermaine Dupri input). Next? How about dropping the nymphomaniac image? A sexual Janet was a breath of fresh air in 1993, interesting in 1997, boring in 2001, desperate in 2004, and in 2008, everyone is over that shit. Don’t be a one-trick pony. Madonna didn’t make “Erotica” for ten years, you don’t need to sing about your titties and vajayjay on every damn record. The reason folks liked those early Janet records so much is because they were relatable and autobiographical. A concept album about being a 42-year old woman in a contented relationship, dealing with career issues and wanting to start a family (while also contending with a pre-existing family of nuts?), now that’s the kind of album I wouldn’t mind hearing from Janet. As Prince once said “act your age, not your shoe size”. Not to say she should button herself up to the neck, but give the coochie a break, girl. Damn.

The final thing to do would be to accept the fact that your star has dimmed somewhat and stop blaming people for things. Yeah, what MTV did to you was fucked up (and racist), but it was your idea to expose your breast in the first place. If she’d just fessed up initially and said “Hey, this was a publicity stunt that went awry”, people would have forgiven you a lot more quickly. It was your decision, you suffer the consequences. Same goes here. She strayed away from her artistic template and sold out with “Discipline”. Unfortunately, as she’s learned, selling out doesn’t always equal cashing in, and this is why the former Princess of Pop finds herself in the situation she’s in now.

Hmmm…she also might wanna think about putting out a no-holds-barred autobiography. Now that’s some shit I would read cover-to-cover!!