Janet Jackson released her 11th studio album in October 2015 with “Unbreakable” after a 8 year hiatus which had seen Jackson disappear into the background.
Whilst Janet Jackson was never a diva type vocalist such as Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, or even Toni Braxton her significance on R&B and Pop music can still be seen in so many of the newer artists today such as Beyonce or Rihanna.
This particular album whilst not groundbreaking does what it is meant to do which is to catch her audience up on what she has been doing over the last eight years. This album is for the fans and I like that she hasn’t tried to conform to a style where she would be simply imitating.
Jackson has created a cool sounding R&B album which plays to her vocal strengths and is complemented by some excellent production.
The first track “Unbreakable” is a really strong opener. It is a bit of a ‘here I am’ song where she explains that the last few years have been difficult what with the death of her brother Michael and the circus that followed. The beat is retro in it’s sound with the 90’s vibe prevalent throughout.
At the very end of the song she simple just talks and says:
(Fans and friends)
It’s been a while
(Fans and friends)
Lot’s to talk about
(Fans and friends)
I’m glad you’re still here
(I dedicate myself to you)
I hope you enjoy
We then immediately go into the worst song on the album “BURNITUP” which features an excruciating verse from rapper Missy Elliot. This is not the finest moment for either artist where Janet’s layered and auto tuned vocals are not particularly pleasant.
“Damn Baby” is the third track and quite simple brilliant. Whilst Janet’s vocals are again heavily auto tuned the beat on this track is just simply irresistible. Like most of the album it is produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Whilst they have been doing their thing for a long time this is really something special and such a groove it’s certainly one of my favourite songs of the last few years.
Janet is so at home on this track and the part of the song where we have our 90’s ode to the ‘breakdown’ is highly enjoyable.
“The Great Forever” is quite a personal song. Her vocals have gone through what it seems like a million filters which actually makes her sound like her brother Michael. I’m not sure if this was deliberate but it is odd nonetheless.
Again the production is so slick and polished the whole thing sonically is very easy to listen to her. Janet’s voice is weak but then I don’t expect much from her in terms of strong vocals as this is an element to her performance that has never been her strong suit.
“Shoulda Known Better” is probably the wrong side of retro where it meet it’s ‘dated’ cousin. Despite this the song isn’t all bad and Janet sounds comfortable vocally on a track which she talks about how she thought she would in effect change the world at the start of her career but 25 years later she realises that she has simply just gone through what everyone else goes through and that she perhaps should have known better.
I had this great epiphany
And rhythm nation was the dream
I guess next time I’ll know better
“After You Fall” is a simple track with a piano loop and Janet’s vocals the make up of a petty ballad about telling someone that no matter how strong they think they are they will need someone to be there for them if and when they fall.
“Broken Hearts Heal” really sounds as if she is having fun with her music despite the song being a retrospective look back at a painful break up. Whilst the verses are mildly interesting the chorus is pretty redundant and the song loses it’s way during this period. A very unfinished feel and considering the album is overly long it really could have been cut.
The 8th track is “Night”. Arguably the most out of place song on the album due to it’s electronic club sound. The vocals don’t seem to connect with the music that is playing in the back ground and feels all a little cobbled together. The melodic nature of the hook is what saves the song with Janet’s layered vocal offering up a mesmerizing and nostalgic feel to proceedings.
“No Sleep” was the first song Jackson released in this comeback period. What I loved about this song was how simple and stripped down the whole thing was. Jackson wasn’t trying to compete with the new music of today and just went back to what she does best which is chilled out catchy R&B. It’s a cool track aided by a rap from J Cole who only goes to further the songs smoothness. A really top track and one of the best released in 2015.
“Dream Maker/Euphoria” suffers from sounding like a mix of a number of songs we have already heard. I had to listen to this song a few times to actually remember it as it was pretty forgettable.
The 11th track from this set is “2 B Loved”. A late 90’s early 2000’s dance beat is present and whilst maybe the nostalgia is being reached for again the more dated feel washed over this song.
“Take Me Away” is similar as it loses it’s way with the lack of connectivity between the melody and the EDM tune playing. Maybe I just prefer Janet Jackson singing straight up R&B. The reason this track doesn’t work for me is that Jackson could be anyone singing this.
“Promise” is just 58 seconds long. It is Jackson singing a very stripped down piano based song. With a bit of a Latin flavour the song is quintessentially short but sweet as Jackson speaks about waiting for someone who hasn’t fulfilled the potential that she believes they can and is hopeful that they will blossom soon.
This leads nicely into “Lessons Learned”. This song is about a woman in a physically abusive relationship that she will not leave. The song is driven by an acoustic guitar and sees Jackson sing convincingly as if she is perhaps singing from her own experience.
Dazed alone confused in thought
Feeling bad for whatever she’s done
Got caught up fell in too deep
Played his part but she only blames she
“Black Eagle” is a track I like because whilst Janet Jackson may seem to have come back with an album to simply harp back to days gone by she has also created an album to get her messages across and in this track she talks about personal strength and standing up for those people who may not be strong but still have significance in our world.
Pretentious is may all sound but I have still got respect for Jackson for making a song such as this and I think it gives a greater insight into the personal issues she has gone through. The life of a celebrity such as Jackson will usually be dismissed with reference to how much money they have but struggles in life can hit anyone and Janet Jackson continues to hint at this in her own.
The 16th track of the epically long album is “Well Travelled”. Big drums out of the 1980’s start the song off with an array of Synth sounds playing in the background. It all sounds a little disjointed as Jackson attempts to create a bit of an anthem with comparisons to the style of Prince evident. Lyrically it again falls into the retrospective look at her life.
The final track of “Unbreakable” is “Gon’ b Alright”. This again is deliberately retro sounding with it’s Motown feel instantly remarkable. Her voice sounds more raspy in the most uptempo track on the project.
Again we see positive lyrics about rising up and taking control of ones life. Jackson has made her point perhaps far too many times on this 18 track album.
Overall this is a very solid comeback with many of the tracks on the first half of the album being impressive with their retro but contemporary beats. Janet Jackson has made the album she wanted to make with this project being one to satisfy her and her fans. It’s nothing groundbreaking thought there are one or two songs (especially ‘Damn Baby”) which are as good as any pop song I have heard in the last couple of years.
This does feel a little like her final album with the message being one that looks back but also looks forward at what is to come (she recently announced she was pregnant). With this I am unsure whether we will see another Janet Jackson anytime soon, or maybe ever.
If this is how she goes out then I think she has tied things up with her career pretty well.