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. The title track successfully conveys the overall theme of the album and Janet’s state of mind—self-assured, truly ready to sing again, and very much in love. The third preview of the album, “BURNITUP!” featuring Missy Elliott, just makes you happy to hear Janet’s voice—with the just as musically missed Missy Elliott, no less—on an uptempo track.
Speaking of, for those of you who have either seen Janet on tour, or, in my case, cheated and hunted down clips online as I await my respective tour stop, it is very much clear that the 49-year-old legend can still out dance the majority of her peers. While there was somewhat of a brouhaha surrounding my claims of Janet’s best student among the crowded crop of new singers, I made it very clear that there will never, ever be another. Her current tour proves that.
With that in mind, the anticipation has given way to the ultimate test: Is Unbreakable actually any good?
One can confidentially say that this is Janet’s best, most cohesive body of work since 2004’s Damita Jo, an underappreciated gem overshadowed by the scandal surrounding her Super Bowl Halftime performance. How much that means to you depends on how strict of a Janet fan you are. It does not top the four fantastic albums she released one after another: Control, Rhythm Nation 1814, janet., and The Velvet Rope respectively. No, but Unbreakable does fit quite nicely in between Damita Jo and All for You, two very good albums that serve as bonuses to an already expansive catalog.
It’s hard to compete with yourself, especially when you’re as successful a hit-maker as Janet Jackson has been.
That said, in terms of subject matter and themes, much of Unbreakable reminds me of the music Janet offered in the 1980s in that it shies away from the overtly sexual material she became known for later in her career. Fellatio is not announced; the water pressure of her vagina remains a mystery; none of the new songs provide the kind of material worth pulling out one lucky concertgoer to straddle.
I love freak nasty Damita Jo, too, but the album is not completely virginal. It’s basically making love with your spouse as opposed to turning that cherry out with a partner (with or without commitment). Some folks are into that.
Sonically, there is a little bit of something for everyone, though thankfully, she’s reunited with longtime collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who have always managed to help Janet meet various stops along the way to a clear destination.
I’m more partial to songs like “Dammn Baby,” “Dream Maker/Euphoria,” “No Sleeep,” and “Night.” I enjoy her most when she leans towards R&B, dance music, or even rock as opposed to heavy-handed pop. But even if I feel some songs could have a little more oomph (“Well Traveled”), each is sung gorgeously.
On Unbreakable, there is a return of effort for Janet’s soft but not flimsy voice. As much as I enjoy Janet songs from the last decade like “Take Care,” she often sang many of them as if she was going through the motions. Here, she sounds invested. It’s clear by her delivery. Likewise, you get that sense from the lyrics—many of which will soon make popular Instagram word memes (“Black Eagle,” “Lessons Learned,” and “The Great Forever”).
Janet is reflective, optimistic, and offering encouraging, motivating lyrics to those listening. It’s the album I wish Janet made years ago. Maybe she wasn’t ready. Or perhaps she knew we weren’t after much after her 2000s were marred by a nipple.
Whatever the case, fans will be happy to hear it. We missed Janet. Unbreakable offers plenty of reasons why.