There are no set rules about how ‘conscious’ music is supposed to sound in 2018. The press kit for the new Natalie Prass record The Future And The Past mentions how relevant the themes therein are to modern audiences: issues surrounding womanhood and femininity are almost constantly in the news and all over social media. So the story goes that Prass’ new record is a celebration of femininity and womanhood – a true, joyous celebration.
On those terms, the album is successful. If that is the kind of album you’re looking for in 2018, you’re in luck. But there is a simpler, more honest thing to say about the new record: if you happen to be a fan of Janet Jackson, this will be your album of this year. Hell, it might even be your favourite since (insert your favourite Janet Jackson album here.)
This is almost a genre exercise, if there was such a genre as Janet Jackson. Sure, there are hints of Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and even Madonna on here, but that depends how hard you listen and whether you can handle nearly 45 minutes of hero-worship. It sounds exactly like Janet at most points on the record, but fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your view), there’s nothing resembling the danger or raw sexuality of peak-era Janet in the lyrics. “I just want to suck you/Taste you, ride you, feel you/Make you come/Come inside of me” is probably the pick of Janet’s pornographic oeuvre.
The first track, Oh My, is a wonderful evocation of Dream Street-era Janet. It’s got an anachronistic production in the most complimentary sense – it sounds as though it was recorded in 1982. Lead single Short Court Style follows, and we’re closer to the G-Funk flavours of The Velvet Rope – remember Rope Burn and Go Deep? Prass is going for that vibe, and it works.
The Fire has a whole heap of ’80s signifiers: Tina Turner keys, hushed and layered Mariah vocals, brittle Fleetwood Mac chords. You could easily mistake it for a Haim production. The slinky, sexy Hot for the Mountain is jazzy ’90s late-night sophisti-pop done with a wry smile.
Album highlight Never Too Late is fantastic. It’s got a deeply sensual groove and a romantic – coital? – vibe, which, combined with Prass sultry coos, push the right buttons. This is all praise, as there is a richness and a depth to Janet’s discography that you could argue challenges her brother Michael’s. She certainly never made an Invincible…
However, Janet Jackson’s last record, Unbreakable, was a masterpiece of modernisation – the album sounded utterly relevant and completely fresh. Here, Prass’ record does the opposite and recreates glorious sounds from the past with astonishing accuracy.
This album could easily be written off as being derivative and stale, but when you spend more than 30 seconds thinking about it, you realise just how rare and unique this sound actually is in 2018. And as Natalie Prass clearly has a great love for the music that inspires her and has done a great job of making her new music sound like it, her dedication to nostalgia should be applauded – even if there’s just too much of it on this record.