Release Date: Oct 2, 2015
Record label: Rhythm Nation
Genre(s): R&B, Adult Contemporary R&B, Contemporary R&B
Diving into Unbreakable, Janet Jackson's 11th album and first full-length effort in seven years, is something we do tentatively. Will the 49-year-old star look to reinvent herself to appeal to today's demo with embarrassing results? Will she cleave to nostalgia and present us with a trove of throwback tracks that lack resonance or relevance? We're happy to report that Jackson is back with something that appeals to old fans while giving new ones something to savour, too. It's a good look that Jackson brought back long-time collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to assist in navigating the project; the trio create something that builds on legacy, instead of attempting to chase down today's R&B/soul sound.
Montreal producer Kaytranada put out a remix of Janet Jackson's 1993 single "If" in the fall of 2012, but the edit, which reimagines the misty original as bubbling, whimsical house, became a party staple. The remix was unique, not just because it lingered on DJ playlists far longer than most major-label hits, but because it created an entry point to then-rising nu-house operatives like Soulection and HW&W via a cross-generational touchpoint like no other: Janet. That gauzy vocal loop, floating in on an elastic bassline, nudged along by dense handclaps and pin-sharp hi-hats, deaded the lumbering, surly dominance of brostep in one fell swoop.
Fan fiction: It’s 1985, and an apple-cheeked Janet Jackson perches on a chair across from her father. “You could be big as Madonna,” he says. Inside, Miss Jackson is screaming — at him, at all the hands constantly pawing and trying to tear off any little piece of her. Her voice is pillowy when she speaks.
Janet Jackson is a walking superlative. She can dance routines into legend, infect with her angelic lilt, and preach social ills through Sly and the Family Stone-sampling anthems. An added dose of ambition turns her art into spectacle. The twist is how all of that isn’t what’s at the core of her longevity.
It could be the ample bank she and her husband, Wissam Al Mana, are sitting on, but Janet Jackson's Unbreakable is so luxuriously chill it's almost narcoleptic. And at a stage in her career when critics are sharpening up ageist phrases like “this stage in her career,” Janet's relaxed confidence comes as a relief. The string of albums she released following the 2004 Incident That Will Not Define Her Career So Let's Please Never Speak of It Again all groaned under the pressure of living up to whatever it is Janet felt she had to prove: relevance, momentum, royalty status, libido.
At this point in her life, Janet Jackson owes us nothing. After spending the first 15 years of her career topping charts, selling out stadiums, and becoming one of the most reliable hitmakers and prominent icons in all of pop music, Jackson spent most of the 2000s doing something we didn’t even think was possible: she got boring. Following the astonishing success of 2001’s effervescent All For You, Jackson’s next two efforts, 2004’s Damita Jo and the career nadir that was 2006’s 20 Y.O., tried their best to recreate All For You‘s playful vibes but ended up feeling hollow, crass, and painfully uninspired.
I approached Janet Jackson’s Unbreakable with equal parts excitement and trepidation. The rollout for the pop icon’s first album in seven years has been executed ***flawlessly. “No Sleeep” harkens back to the janet. era while its J.Cole-featuring remix manages to add a hip-hop twist without it feeling forced, or worse, futile as many guest raps on R&B tracks have proven to be.
All four of Janet Jackson's albums released during the 2000s debuted near or at the top of the Billboard 200, as ensured by a legion of devotees. They lacked the staying power of the Control-to-Velvet Rope run, however, and quickly slipped out of view. Jackson left two labels during the decade and dealt with personal matters that included the death of brother Michael.
Janet Jackson’s confident comeback album is a sprawling 17-track blast from the past. Not only does Unbreakable reunite the singer with Jam & Lewis, the producers of her 80s pomp, the excitably titled Burnitup! finds the lesser-spotted Missy Elliott on board. Modern R&B stars tend to cleave to a narrow set of preoccupations (sex, partying) and sounds, but Unbreakable throws any number of genres, tempos and themes at the wall, united by Jackson’s coo and an over-riding impression of seasoned professionals locked in a groove.
Absence makes audience’s hearts grow fonder. Following her infamous wardrobe malfunction at the 2004 Super Bowl, Janet Jackson’s waning commercial fortunes saw her albums dismissed, often unfairly – but after a seven-year hiatus and a reunion with producers Jam & Lewis, her 11th album arrives to a renewed wave of appreciation for her visionary career. Its sunny serenity picks up where 2001’s All For You left off rather than the urgent pansexual experimentation of Jackson’s most involving ’90s work, though.
Despite being wealthy and successful, there's still an air of 'always the bridesmaid' about Janet Jackson, thanks in part to existing in the considerable shadow of her older brother Michael, and of course, being continually usurped in pop-culture's short-term memory by younger, hungrier performers. For a while, Janet has been existing in her own, perfectly curated universe, backed for the most part by the talents of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, quietly getting on with things without a lot of the bombast that surrounds much of pop-music. Since the days of making exquisite 80s synth-soul and industrial soul-pop monsters like 'Rhythm Nation', she really found her groove on the irresistible Janet LP in 1993.
Many pop stars use fame as a pulpit, but Janet Jackson's 1989 album Rhythm Nation 1814 remains an agit-pop standout. Its stark industrial atmospherics and black-and-white imagery would probably cause nervous glances in major label boardrooms today. Now an independent artist, Jackson returns to social realism on her 11th studio album, noting on Shoulda Known Better that "the dream" that was Rhythm Nation never came true.
Janet Jackson is well aware of the job at hand on her first album in seven years, and she doesn’t waste any time facing up to it. “Hello,” she coos in the opening track of “Unbreakable.” “It’s been a while. Lots to talk about.”. This is a modal window..
When Janet Jackson last released a new studio album — "Discipline," in 2008 — she was trying to find her way back onto the pop charts that she dominated for so much of the '80s and '90s. She broke with her longtime production team, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, in favor of a batch of contemporary hitmakers. But the reboot backfired, with the album sinking off the charts and Jackson breaking up with her record company.
Although Janet Jackson is a fiercely private person, she’s always strived to make her music vulnerable—meaning her songs are conduits for frank discussions about bedroom proclivities, emotional struggles, romantic intimacy, social issues, and sexual fluidity. But on Unbreakable, her first album on her own label, Rhythm Nation Records, Jackson sounds unguarded and open in ways she hasn’t in years. Working with songwriters and producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis for the first time since 2006’s 20 Y.O., she dials back the explicitly sexual lyrics she’s favored on her last few releases, in favor of reflections about relationships, life, love, and the greater good.
Janet Jackson addresses her absence on the languid title track of her first album in seven years, intoning at the song’s end: “Hello, it’s been a while. Lots to talk about. I’m glad you’re still here. I hope you enjoy.” What’s been on Jackson’s mind since 2008’s middling “Discipline”? Pretty much what’s been on her mind since the start of her career: love — sharing it, losing it, protecting it, reveling in it, spreading it for the greater good, and translating it into a vocabulary that works both on the dance floor and in the bedroom.
Meet a sweeter, more chaste Janet Jackson. “Unbreakable,” her first album in seven years, arrives after two major events: the 2009 death of her brother Michael and her 2012 marriage to a Qatari businessman, Wissam Al Mana. Through 17 songs, Ms. Jackson sings about love, loyalty and compassion, and about memories as well as anticipation.