Unbreakable is a welcome return for singer Janet Jackson. A current and modern release on the whole, with well-thought out production and song-writing, although some tracks sound dated.
For the majority of musicians entering the industry, their main goal is to successfully achieve longevity and receive critical acclaim for the projects they release. Many artists have struggled and failed to achieve this, forever heralded as ‘One Hit Wonders’- but with a solo career spanning 33 years, Janet Jackson has lived up to the title of her latest album release, Unbreakable, through her own record label. Following a seven-year hiatus, the ‘Rhythm Nation’ icon has finally returned onto the music scene, serving us that Jackson magic the industry has been missing.
Split into two-sides, Janet serves an eclectic mix of genre and production, both vocally and instrumentally, a slight shift from her previous releases. Working with old-time producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the album opener ‘Unbreakable’ is a refreshing introduction to the musicality of the record. At a time where R&B consists of minimal attempts at meaningful lyricism over trap beats, this track gives a fresh return to old school sounds and crisp chord progressions. The side two opener ‘Dream Maker/Euphoria’ mirrors this vintage vibe – balancing neo-soul/jazz infused progressions and sampling, with a modern hip-hop aesthetic, such as is found with the likes of D’Angelo and Kendrick Lamar’s most recent releases.
Janet showcases her ability to vocally adapt, embodying a stadium filling ambience over EDM inspired track ‘Shoulda Known Better’, reminiscent of a style suiting to the vocals of Paramore’s Hayley Williams in Zedd’s ‘Stay The Night’. This stylistic feature reappears in tracks, ‘Take Me Away’ and ‘Night’, with the latter clearly inspired by 90s house music. However, despite its intentions, the latter’s vocal arrangement and performance are let down by production which at times feels one-dimensional, with the mid-8 failing to provide any kind of sufficient excitement.
This album does not shy away from Ms Jackson’s R&B background, pairing her youthful sounding vocals on ‘Damn Baby’ against a pounding 808 beat, creating perfectly executed vibes. ‘BURNITUP!’ would fit perfectly in hit TV show Empire, ready for full on Kenny Ortega style choreography. Missy Elliott’s feature adds playfulness and throwback references to early 2000’s R&B, and is a welcome return from her last feature on Discipline (2008). The Rhodes chord progression in ‘Black Eagle’ provides an interesting experimental backdrop for Janet’s ethereal vocals, whilst leading single ‘No Sleeep’ is appropriately refined and simplistic, creating a sultry atmosphere. J. Cole’s conversational rap style not only complements Janet’s vocals but also provides a useful connection for younger fans.
Theoretically speaking, if, when the final track list was compiled, ‘2 B Loved’ was lost/destroyed/corrupted, I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. For a woman who has mostly been at the forefront of the industry, this track feels oddly stagnant and adds little to the overall feel of the album, regardless of how catchy the hook is.
What Janet successfully incorporates throughout this album is an emphasis on quality lyricism. The Spanish sounding ‘Promise’– for only 58 seconds – is tastefully packed with a resonating message, a common feature also in ‘After You Fall’: underlining the Jackson’s legacy and desire to highlight subjects in need of social discussion and heightened prominence. The most poignant lyrics are found in ‘Broken Hearts Heal’, which at surface level is a well harmonised soul/pop song. However, upon delving into the lyrics this song turns into a very touching tribute to her late brother Michael Jackson, singing “It was in summer that you left me / The fall and winter never felt so cold”.
‘Gon’ B Alright’ is an uplifting close to the album, embodying the album’s message. The track sounds very fitting to the current British pop market, with elements of production sounding like a 60s classic whilst also reminding me of One Republic’s ‘Love Runs Out’. For a comeback album, Unbreakable definitely emphasises Janet’s significance today, filled with a youthful but mature style, without sounding contrived. Although some tracks may sound a bit nostalgic and dated, the album’s sound as a whole is relevant and fits nicely into today’s pop market.
Unbreakable is out now via Rhythm Nation Records.