Here’s something new, unusual, and pretty darned cool in the world of music and DVD. Both formats often offer repackaged materials in new clothing. Hardly a week passes without a new special edition of an old DVD, and CDs have seen more than their fair share of reissues. Heck, while I wrote my review of Wingspan the other day, I realized that I currently own four different copies of Band On the Run. I have the Columbia Records release - the first CD incarnation of the album - for collectible reasons, the DCC Compact Classics gold CD for listening to the album in the car, the DTS copy for home enjoyment, and the 25th anniversary package for the second disc that includes interviews and extras. That doesn’t even cover all of the different versions available; it only discusses the ones I actually own.
Janet Jackson’s catalogue hasn’t gone through nearly as many configurations, though maybe once her records have been around as long as Band On the Run she’ll compete. Nonetheless, at least two of her last three albums received more deluxe treatment months after their initial releases. 1993’s Janet. appeared via a nice two-CD set in 1994. The first disc matched the original, but the second provided alternate versions of songs as well as one non-album track. All of this came housed in a nice hardback-book style case that included lyrics and photos.
As far as I know, no similar release accompanied 1997’s The Velvet Rope, though the tour behind that album resulted in Janet’s only live DVD to date. Hopefully we’ll eventually get a home video representation of her 2001 trek, but until then, we’ll have to amuse ourselves with this new package, the All For You Limited Edition.
This set includes two different discs. On the first, we get an expanded CD version of All For You itself. This provides the standard album that came out in April 2001 along with two “bonus” remixes of “Song of a Gun (Betcha Think This Song Is About You)”. Since this is meant to be a DVD review, I won’t go into depth in regard to the album except to indicate it’s a decent Janet release. I don’t think All For You is as strong as better works like Janet. or Rhythm Nation 1814, but it’s still got its moments. Every Janet album mixes excellent material and filler, and All For You is no different, except the lows occur a little more frequently.
If you’re considering a repurchase of All For You to get the remixes, don’t bother, as they’re both pretty bad. Each includes a crummy rap from Missy Elliott. The “Original Flyte Tyme Remix” basically reproduces the regular version except with Missy’s bland rap, while the “P. Diddy Remix” offers a cheesy synthesized backing that makes the tunes sound really rinky-dink. I’ll never bother with those crummy remixes again.
While I can’t say I’m enthusiastic about All For You, average Janet beats most others on their best days, so I’ll take it. Anyway, the second disc offers the DVD content. Entitled Janet: The Virgin Years Video Collection, this disc provides exactly what it describes, for the most part. Janet’s first four albums - 1982’s Janet Jackson through 1989’s Rhythm Nation 1814 all appeared on A&M Records, but she defected to Virgin in the early Nineties. Oddly, this didn’t mean she released no new material through A&M in that decade. Apparently to fulfill a contractual obligation, 1995’s greatest hits package Design of a Decade tossed in two new tracks - “Runaway” and “Twenty Foreplay” - as well as Janet.’s “That’s the Way Love Goes”.
The former numbers are nowhere to be found on Virgin Years but their videos - along with “Love”, which does make the cut here - appears on the DVD of Design of a Decade. This CD/DVD release also omits All For You’s “Doesn’t Really Matter”, probably due to more contractual mumbo-jumbo; that tune originally showed up on the soundtrack of Klumps: Nutty Professor II, and the video in question can be seen on both the standard and the Uncensored DVDs.
Otherwise, Virgin Years provides lots of Janet goodness from the last decade or so. We find 15 unique music videos. They include six from Janet. - “That’s the Way Love Goes”, “If”, “Again”, “Because of Love”, “Any Time, Any Place”, and “You Want This” - along with seven from The Velvet Rope - “Got ‘Til It’s Gone”, “Together Again”, “Together Again (Deeper Remix)”, “I Get Lonely”, “Go Deep”, “You” and “Every Time” - as well as “All For You” and “Someone to Call My Lover” from All For You.
For the most part, the videos tend to split into two different genres. Some - such as “If”, “Together Again”, and “All For You” - offer big production pieces that feature Janet and a slew of dancers. On the other hand, the second format goes with quieter, more erotic content. Sometimes this involves a lucky anonymous dude with whom Janet gets intimate; we find this sort of program during clips like “Again” and “Any Time, Any Place”. In addition, Janet occasionally spends some quiet solo time in sexy pieces like the “Together Again (Deeper)” and “Every Time”. A few clips clearly tried to promote then-current tours, as “You” and “Because of Love” offered snippets from Janet’s 1998 and 1993-94 treks, respectively. (“I Get Lonely” recreates the shtick she did during the Velvet Rope outing, but it doesn’t include any actual live footage; you’d have to know the show to realize that it related to the concert.)
For the most part, I thought the clips created nice lives of their own. There’s not a big gap between the best Janet videos and the worst. None of them came across as truly inspired or terrific pieces, but none of them seemed weak or lacked entertainment value either. If forced to choose the best of the set, I’d go with:
-“If”, mainly due to some fine choreography and the fact I love the song. The video itself suffers somewhat from a muddled Asian-oriented story that seems to go absolutely nowhere, but at least this creates an interesting production core that gives the clip an unusual look.
-“Got ‘Til It’s Gone”, largely because it’s very unusual, as Janet sets the video in what appears to be post-apartheid South Africa and offers a rather naturalistic look to the people - including herself, with the nappiest hairstyle she’s ever sported. The song’s a good one, though not one of my favorites, and the video provides a simple yet strangely intriguing experience.
-“Together Again (Deeper)” and “Every Time”, primarily because they’re darned hot! A red-haired Janet strips to her skivvies in the former, and a blue-eyed Janet floats naked in the latter. I guess the songs are good, but who pays attention to music at a time like this? By the way, I was surprised that the “Deeper” version of “Together” offered a totally unique video. Clips such as the “strings version” of “Secret Garden” on Bruce Springsteen’s Video Anthology 1978-2000 featured the same visuals with altered audio. In this case, the two “Together” videos are absolutely different creatures.
-“Go Deep”, due to its unusually light and fun tone. Not that the others are dark and serious, but this one features a cool premise in which a teenage Janet fan dreams that she stops at his house and throws a party. Some gimmicky camerawork knocks it down a few pegs, and the concept isn’t tremendously original, but it’s still something different and entertaining among this package.
The remaining videos all seem interesting as well, though not quite as compelling as these. “Together Again” and “All For You” probably represent the best of the remaining bunch, and “That’s the Way Love Goes” must be mentioned for one reason: yes, that is Jennifer Lopez, back before she and her enormous ass became famous. “You Want This” suffers from a murky storyline, but it has some interesting moments.
Only the tour-related videos come across as somewhat tacky. “Because of Love” offers a very basic affair. Some unique lip-synch shows of Janet alternate with a cheesy “travelogue” from the road. I like the song enough to enjoy the video, but it still seems a bit lame. “You” consists mainly of shots from the concert. Most of these depict “You” itself, but quite a few provide information about the rest of the show. In addition, we see some lip-synch images of Janet that were clearly filmed separately but intended to look like they came from the concert.
While not a traditional video, we get Janet’s recent performance of “All For You” at the MTV Icon show. This clip doesn’t recreate anything from her 2001 tour, and it’s a reasonably interesting production number. It appears that Janet sang live to taped backup, though it’s hard to tell. I’ve seen Janet in concert eight times over the years, and I never can quite figure out how much is live and how much is Memorex. Parts of “All For You” sound canned, but they vary enough that I can’t really figure out the nature of her vocals.
For each of the three albums covered in Virgin Years, we find some “Behind the Scenes” clips. The program for Janet. consists of a radio interview conducted by Brenda Ross. During the 11-minute and 30-second piece, Ross asks a few questions, and Janet also takes calls from fans. In general, she discusses the Janet. album and talks about the process through which she chooses her dancers. It’s a decent little piece but nothing tremendously informative.
In the eight-minute snippet that covers The Velvet Rope, the focus strongly sticks with the 1998 tour. Janet talks a little about “Together Again” and “What About”, but mainly this program exists to promote the concert trek. It’s worth a look but still not very valuable.
Lastly, the six-minute and 40-second piece that examines All For You includes a general discussion of Janet’s current mindset now that she’s a single gal again. She also tells us a little about “Trust a Try”, “When We Oooo”, “All For You”, “Come On Get Up”, and “Someone to
Call My Lover”. Again, it seems mildly interesting but not terribly revealing or compelling.
Nonetheless, I felt very pleased with Janet: The Virgin Years Video Compilation as a whole. It packs about 100 minutes of interesting footage, with more than an hour and 15 minutes of quality music videos. Janet’s A&M years have been well-documented on home video via multiple combinations of Rhythm Nation and Control clips, but her Nineties output has gotten the shaft - until now. I really liked this collection and think it’s a fine addition to my Janet catalogue.
One significant note about this package: the CD includes the “clean” version of All For You. This cuts some sensuality and profanity, which ironically means that the tune most affected is “Song of a Gun (Betcha Think This Song Is About You)”, the song that turns up three times on the disc. I don’t know why this set only offers the altered edition of the album, but it’s a disappointment nonetheless.
Janet: The Virgin Years Video Collection appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Actually, the dimensions of the videos varied. Most of them used the fullframe ratio, but some appeared letterboxed at about 1.78:1. “All For You”, “Together Again”, and “If” used this ratio, probably because they attempted a more cinematic scope than most of the other videos; those were likely the three biggest production numbers of the package. Though some mild concerns occurred along the way, for the most part I found the videos in this package to look extremely good.
Whenever I review compilations of material that spans a period of years, I normally gripe about how difficult it can be to sum up the product. After all, the music videos generally encompass a mix of eras and different directors, all of whom go for various stylistic looks. Unlike a movie, these pieces can feature radically varying elements and often lack consistency.
However, that wasn’t the case with Virgin Years. Despite the fact the videos spanned the usual mix of directors and a period of eight years, they seemed surprisingly uniform in their quality. Sharpness almost invariably looked solid. Some of the clips utilized a stylistic fuzziness at times - such as the “”Deeper” version of “Together Again” - whereas a few others looked slightly soft for no apparent reason; for instance, the standard “Together Again” and “Go Deep” showed some of these concerns.
For the most part, this appeared during wider shots, and they seemed to result from the DVD’s main problem: edge enhancement. Some distinct halos popped up at times, and these made a few segments lack the appropriate definition. In addition, I saw some examples of jagged edges, and moiré effects could be a minor distraction. Some of the clothes worn by Janet and others showed a noticeable shimmer at times, though these never became horrible.
Music videos often feature very stylized colors, and Virgin Years was no exception. We found a variety of hues, from the bright neon tones of “All For You” to the red inflection of “If” to the brown warmth of “Got ‘Til It’s Gone” to the cool aqua of “Every Time”. Virtually all of these looked simply terrific. The vivid colors of “All For You” were simply mind-blowing, and the other clips largely followed suit. Virgin Years excelled at color reproduction, and those elements made the collection look great much of the time. Black levels also seemed quite deep and rich, while shadow detail was consistently clear and appropriately opaque. Low-light situations never suffered from excessive darkness, and they were quite solid.
The comments above covered the music videos themselves, but Virgin Years included some other elements as well. The “MTV Icon” performance of “All For You” didn’t live up to the quality of the videos. It seemed a little soft, and it also came across as somewhat too bright, which washed out the image to a degree. Still, it remained reasonably clear and accurate.
The “Behind the Scenes” clips for the various albums seemed decent. The snippets about Janet. featured a very stylized black and white look that rendered them intentionally awkward, but they remained acceptable. The portions for Velvet Rope and All For You seemed stronger but unexceptional. In any case, my main focus remained on the videos, and despite some problematic edge enhancement, I found them to seem quite impressive.
Also strong was the PCM stereo sound of Janet: The Virgin Years Video Collection. Actually, those elements enjoyed greater consistency than did the videos, since they didn’t come from so many different sources. Some variations in the production existed, but they still seemed fairly uniform as a whole, especially within each of the three albums.
At times, I felt highs appeared a little indistinct, but for the most part, those concerns resulted from the original recording. I always thought that “All For You” sounded a bit harsh, and I also have consistently felt that “If” and “Together Again” seemed moderately compressed and constricted. Nonetheless, those impressions don’t relate to reproduction issues; they stem from the production, so I can’t complain about the way the tunes came across on the DVD.
As a whole, I thought the disc offered solid audio. Within the constraints of the recordings, highs came across as crisp and distinct, while bass response was usually good and occasionally excellent. Take note: Virgin Years is a loud disc, and some of the tunes include extremely active low-end response. The bass of tracks like “Got ‘Til It’s Gone” and “All For You” will definitely wake the neighbors, and most of the songs seemed nicely deep and rich. Low-end remained tight and clear as well, and those elements really complemented the tracks.
Stereo reproduction seemed fine across the board. Various components spread across the spectrum in a broad and engaging manner. I wasn’t tremendously impressed with the breadth and distinctiveness of the imaging, but it appeared more than acceptable. All in all, Virgin Years offered clean and vivid sound, and I thought it reproduced the original material nicely.
In regard to extras, I decided that I wouldn’t give Virgin Years a grade. This is an unusual package, and essentially the DVD exists as a supplement to the original album. I suppose one could consider the videos as the main program and look at the MTV performance and the “Behind the Scenes” material as supplements, but I felt that it was best to consider the entire package as an extra and leave it at that.
Virgin Years includes no content I didn’t discuss in the body of this review. However, it does give us a few programming options. One can “View All” of the clips, though it does so in an unusual manner. If you select this method, you’ll start with the material from All For You and then work through The Velvet Rope and Janet. in that order. Within each album’s domain, we get the songs presented in their release order; we start with each record’s first single and work through them from there. Logically, I expected the set to begin with Janet. and “That’s The Way Love Goes” and progress from there, but instead it uses this weird, pseudo-reverse chronology. It doesn’t bother me, but it did catch me by surprise.
In any case, if you don’t choose to “View All” of the clips, you can access them singly by album or program your own unique playlist in the “Mix It Up” area. This allows you to choose which videos you want to see and then place them in any particular order. I don’t know if I’ll ever use it, but it adds a nice level of control to the package, and I wanna be the one in control!
The booklet included with this package differed slightly from the one featured alongside the album-only CD. The new one dropped a couple of photos and some “thank you” comments, while it added a new picture and credits for the videos. In addition, the cover picture is totally different.
All in all, I thought this CD/DVD hybrid package for Janet Jackson’s All For You was a nice set. I’m not pleased that it featured the “clean” - that is, edited - version of the album, but the fine compilation of Janet’s videos allowed me to forgive this transgression. The DVD provided consistently positive picture and sound that served the clips well. In the end, All For You seemed like a solid package that would be a bargain for those who don’t already own the album on its own. Fans who currently possess the CD will also want to give it a look, as the list price of $24.97 still seems pretty reasonable for such a fine presentation of videos.
Note that the All For You Limited Edition comes in a standard CD-sized jewel box. As such, it easily gets lost in the shuffle at stores, so you may have to look carefully to find it. Actually, I checked a few DVD-specific online retailers, and none of them carry this set. Those that also deal with CDs - such as Amazon - sell it, however. If you go to a brick and mortar story, head to the CD department and look there; some might stock it in the DVD area, but all I’ve examined have plopped it amongst the standard CDs.
And by the way, I have no clue how “limited” this release really is. Some limited editions remain on the shelves after years; for example, I still see no shortage of Saving Private Ryan. However, All For You could stay out there forever or it could quickly evaporate - I don’t know how many copies will hit the streets. I think it’d be silly of Virgin to drop this thing too quickly, though, as it really is too nice a set to go out of print rapidly.