Janet Gardner - Janet Gardner

Janet Gardner cover
Janet Gardner
Janet Gardner
Pavement Entertainment
Janet Gardner was and is, since the band resumed using that name, the lead singer of Vixen, an all-female band that almost made it “big” in the tail end of the 80s and early 90s with a 1-2 of great albums, but saw their popularity fizzling out shortly after the release of a rather “different” third album, that tried to update the sound to something more contemporary and make it more compatible with the 90s grunge style…
On this eponymous solo release, her debut as a solo artist Janet is joined by Justin James (guitarist, songwriter, producer & husband) in an album that while not grunge, desperately tries to sound contemporary. Which is usually not something old fans want to hear from artists with some “history”… if they want to hear anything new at all (to be quite blatant) and not forever live on their 80s memories of big hair, neon and miami vice!
Janet is still as good as you might remember from back in the day, but at least in the first couple of tunes, the glaring attempt to make things “modern” feels at the very least forced and even a little awkward, which is kinda bad, since the songs themselves “Rat Hole”, which features a pretty danceable bit and even some over-driven vocals and the harder edged “Hippycrite” with its dynamic but dump d-tuned riff, are not bad per se; it’s just their context and orchestration that make em sound a little “weird”.
“If You Want Me” tones down the modernity significantly and feels closer to what a casual as well as an old school fan might want.
“Candle” is a powerful love song, with some lovely softer passages that feel almost lifted from the early days…
“You Problem Now” feels like later day Alice Cooper, sung with a bit of a punkish slur by a “chick”… really, odd! Experimenting is good, but only when the results show enough promise to warrant publication, which this track hardly does justify.
“Let It Be Over” is interesting as J and hubby boombox and harmonize a cappella for a while, before they launch into a protest song wishing on world peace; noble enough and the soloing is of high caliber, an experiment that works in the context of the album barely, but still works without greatly distracting you from the rest of the tracks.
Lost” is another edgy modern track that often feels caught in a dichotomy between its razor sharp modern sounding guitars and verses and melodies that feel a bit more vintage inspired… it works up to a point. During the grind, I was thinking Alice Cooper, Lizzy Borden even Marylin Manson and the riffing and beat that goes along with it kinda work, but again not without leaving a bit of a weird taste… maybe blood :D – Halloween is up soon) and this feels like a perfect soundtrack.
“Best Friend” is an acoustic ballad that continues the theme of some songs that precede it and is about the couple’s relationship.
Lastly, “The Good or the Bye” is a rock n roll rousing anthem that brought to mind WASP among other things as well as the odd sunset strip band, but from another perspective.
Not exactly sure what to make of the album, it’s more aggressive than I would have ever expected, but in trying to sound up-to-date, I think it makes a few questionable instrumentation choices. It’s certainly not bad overall, even if it might take a few spins to set in and I think it’s totally worth checking out, if not for anything else; just to get to listen to Gardner’s still gorgeous vocals, anew.