Originally published on Gay Times on 7 October 2015.
After years of rumours, Janet Jackson finally made an official return to the music world this year, bringing an end to the seven year break since her last album, Discipline.
On first look, the most unnerving thing about her new album Unbreakable is the lack of interludes. A Janet Jackson album devoid of interludes is like an album these days without a Sia writing credit. Mind you, there are interlude-like moments at the end of some tracks; they just haven’t been cut into a separate tracks. Perhaps because 2008’s Discipline managed to shoehorn in a whopping nine interludes, Janet felt she’d spunked two album’s worth already so could skip-out this time.
On that note, another deviation for album number 11 is its lack of smut. Damita Jo – her underrated eighth album shamefully shunned because of BOOBGATE – managed to run the gamut of sexed-up banger (‘Sexhibition’) to gross-out sleaze, complete with simulated …mouthful (‘Warmth’), but an overt embracing of her sexuality has been a part of her oeuvre since 1993’s Janet. Whether it’s simply reflective of her advancing years and a more settled personal life, Janet’s new album does feel more mature though crucially without sounding jaded or past it. This is a music veteran with plenty still to offer.
The album contains two straightforward stompers (‘BURNITUP!’ and ‘Dammn Baby’) that prove Ms Jackson is far from done with bothering our dancefloors just yet, but the album’s pinnacle is the bright and breezy ‘Take Me Away’ – the theme of getting away seems to serve Janet well; see also ‘Escapade’ and ‘Runaway’. Other highlights include the surprisingly joyous ‘Broken Hearts Heal’ (which deals with the loss of her brother Michael and is a touching celebration of their relationship), the sensual swagger of lead single ‘No Sleeep’ and the country-tinged anthem ‘Well Traveled’.
Undoubtedly thanks in part to the much talked about reunion with longterm collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Janet manages to meld a variety of styles and influences to create her most well-crafted album since 1997’s critically acclaimed The Velvet Rope. That’s not to say it’s a perfect record; there’s definitely some fat that could have been trimmed. ‘Black Eagle’ feels like an overblown segue from ‘Lessons Learned’, while the delicate ‘After You Fall’ is perhaps a victim of its own stripped-back simplicity, causing it to get lost among the generously packed album. Then there’s ‘Gon’ B Alright’, which samples Sly & The Family Stone’s ‘Dance to the Music’ and is a carefree bop, even if it is slightly at odds with the rest of the album.
Arguably more a reflection of what’s considered ‘hot’ at the moment rather than the calibre of these songs, Unbreakable may lack obvious chart-friendly singles but it doesn’t really have any duff moments either, and it serves as a timely reminder to today’s young upstarts that there’s a reason Ms Jackson is an oft-cited musical inspiration. This cohesive and polished collection works well as a whole and shows the youngest member of the Jackson clan is still worth paying attention to, even during her fourth decade within the business.