The new disc, which she calls "my most personal album," intersperses 11 new songs with short "interludes." It's the pop-funk diva's first album of original tunes since 1993's multi-platinum, chart-topping janet. (Her 1995 Design of a Decade was a greatest-hits collection.)
Jackson, who has recorded with Public Enemy's Chuck D and poet Maya Angelou in the past, is trying to update her sound even more this time around. Thanks to her ever-savvy producer/collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Rope has an edgier, hip-hop flavor (A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip is featured on "Got 'Til It's Gone") and songs that tackle S&M, bisexuality and domestic violence. "She's not stuck in four years ago," MTV's music programmer Steven Hill tells USA Today. "She's well aware of the now sounds and the now trends. She samples some older songs on this album, but she also incorporates some of the newer sounds."
Among those songs samples: Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" nicely integrated with Q-Tip's rapping on the album's first single "Got 'Til It's Gone." Jackson calls Mitchell one of her biggest musical inspirations. She has also recorded a cover of Mitchell's "Beat of Black Wings" for an upcoming tribute album.
If reviews are any indication, then Rope should match the monster sales of Jackson's previous efforts--especially after notching four-star reviews in USA Today and the Los Angeles Times and an "A" in Entertainment Weekly. Since launching her solo career in 1981, Jackson has sold some 40 million albums and last year signed the world's largest record deal, a $80 million pact with Virgin. Rope is her third album on Virgin.
Indeed, a quick survey of Los Angeles-area record retailers reveals brisk sales of Rope on its first day in bins. "She's got tons of fans and lots of crossover appeal," says the sales manager at the Virgin Megastore in Hollywood. "I wouldn't be surprised if [Rope] went straight to No. 1."