At the end of the title track of her new album, Unbreakable, Janet Jackson declares in a her sultry speaking voice: “It’s been a while / Lot’s to talk about.” And it has been awhile. It’s been seven years, to be exact, since her last album, Discipline (2008), which disappointed many fans. In her latest work, Jackson makes up in many ways for the failures of her previous album.
For decades, Jackson has been a legend of the pop/r&b genre. One of the defining characteristics of a pop music legend is that they are able to move through genres and do so fluidly, making it seem a natural progression of sound, rather than an experiment or change in direction that so many artists try.
Jackson has proved that she can make such transitions throughout her career. Starting with her third solo outing, Control—which proved she truly could step out her brother’s shadow and make a unique mark on the music industry. On that album, she sounded more like Prince’s little sister than the king of Pop’s, as she was backed by the hard, angular electronic synths that were coming out of Minneapolis. Mixed with her sweet voice and lyrics, it was a winning formula.
Then there was the hugely successful work, The Velvet Rope, which saw her transform into a socially conscious pop star with soul, where she tackled difficult issues such as abuse.
Unbreakable finds her throwing these previously established personas to the wind, embracing yet another unique voice, one of simple fun and excitement.
She does not draw all the fun from the catchy nature of synth pop though the use of synths is apparent throughout the record, it is more reminiscent of ’90s house or disco.
The ’90s house grove is exemplified on the song, “Night,” where the beat stops and starts, twists and turns and glitches and glades over supremely melodic harmonies, as she sings, “I woke up in Heaven in the morning / With the biggest smile upon my face.” It sounds like the hottest club jam coming out of Philadelphia in 1998 and rivals anything that Disclosure put out.
The disco aspect is brought through by a bouncy beat that is bolstered by a piano on “Take Me Away.” While “Broken Hearts Heal” has a disco inspired beat and she brings the nostalgia that the ’70s era has through the lyrics, which are some of the best on the record: “We made-up songs to do our chores to / And harmonized while we all did our part / Danced and sang our way through most anything / Always felt safe in each others’ love.” Such words are intriguing. As a fan, it’s hard not to imagine that this is what it was like in the Jackson household.
It is when Jackson slows it down, such as on “Lesson Learned”, that you realize what is holding the record together: her voice. Light, agile and like a reed you realize that before there Aaliyah, before there was FKA Twigs, there was Miss Jackson and she does it very, very well.
Overall the album is packed with great jams both club and slow. But therein lies its problem: Like many later Jackson albums, it is a mammoth work of nineteen songs and you can lose your way and the feel of the album with so many songs.
Even though a more concise message may be lost, it is more of a victory for Miss Jackson. For her fans young and old, this album is a homecoming to music. They showed their appreciation for her by taking the album to number one and she showed hers by giving them an album packed with songs to dance, make love and cry to. Classic Janet.
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