The first notable thing about Janet Jackson’s new album, Unbreakable, is its length. With a colossal 17 songs to choose from, I went in expecting at least a couple of tracks that I’d enjoy. Even if, like me, you’re not an avid fan, it’s impossible to deny the influence that Jackson’s presence has had on popular music. She’s cited as an inspiration for TLC, Beyoncé, and Rihanna to name but a few, and despite the seven year hiatus between her last album and Unbreakable, she’s one of the most prolific artists of her time.
Collab track ‘BURNITUP!’, with its undeniably noughties sound, has Missy Elliot chanting that Jackson is back donning a “brand new style with a brand new sound.” It’s no secret that ageing in the face of the music industry is a hard task; ageism is very alive and real, and the industry isn’t afraid of coldly dropping people who can’t “keep up”, but Jackson has graciously and impressively avoided any criticism of her lagging behind by making her work largely autobiographical and sentimental.
Something I admire about Jackson is her ability to explore different genres. ‘Night’ nods toward disco; ‘Well Travelled’ is a beautifully emotional power ballad; ‘After You Fall’ sounds like an Einaudi piece; she’s not afraid of trying things, even if the outcome isn’t always success.
“Broken Hearts Heal” was one of my least favourites on the album, and I couldn’t help but think how much it sounded like something her late brother, Michael Jackson, would produce. I had to swallow my words when I did my research, however, as this was wholeheartedly intended as a homage to her brother and their lives together.
She used the same concept on ‘Gon’B Alright’, but very cleverly worked it to produce something that nodded towards the music of The Jackson 5. It builds on Sly & The Family Stone’s ‘Dance To The Music’ and, interestingly enough, Jackson sings all the vocal parts, even the bass, using different voicing and clever production. The realisation is a complete success, and it’s possibly my favourite track. Its upbeat energy and positive feel was an excellent way to end the album.
It’s not only the heartfelt messages that softened my feelings towards ‘Unbreakable’; the production, by long-time moguls Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, is smooth to the point of flawlessness. Something that caught my attention was the raucous, dirty bass that commanded songs such as ‘Dammn Baby’, ‘BURNITUP!’ and ‘2 B Loved’. ‘Dammn Baby’ in particular was fun to listen to, with Jackson’s Minaj-esque ad libbing giving it a very current feel.
On first listen, I really didn’t like Unbreakable. It was too long; tracks such as ‘After You Fall’ and ‘Shoulda Known Better’ were repetitive; it didn’t seem to gel as an album, and ‘No Sleeep’ was an underwhelming single. After reading about Janet Jackson’s life and some of the meanings behind certain songs, I changed my mind. I still wouldn’t choose to listen to the majority of it, but the sentimentality caught me. Perhaps ‘Unbreakable’ isn’t musically astounding, but it feels therapeutic. It’s a journey with the unbreakable Janet; by Janet Jackson, for Janet Jackson.
Source: Album Art
Music student. Goes by the unfortunate pseudonym of Derrick Winterburgh. Like singing, feminism, equality, laughing, talking about mental health, and cheese.