Unbreakable

Janet Jackson

BMG, 2015

http://www.janetjackson.com

REVIEW BY: Mark Millan

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/06/2020

Janet Jackson is one of those reliable artists who has rarely released a bad album. But in a cannon now consisting of eleven studio offerings, there are only a couple that are truly great: 1989’s Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 and its follow-up released in 1993 simply titled Janet. There is no denying, however, Jackson’s enduring popularity, which has resulted in continued chart success and current sales figures that hold their own among her contemporaries.

As an artist, Jackson has never shied away from the expressing her emotions, desires, and fantasies on record, which at times can bring her down (2004’s Damita Jo is a low point) and conversely can push boundaries. This happened most memorably with The Velvet Rope, which is a patchy but sensual affair overall, and most recently in 2008 with the Discipline album that I rate higher than most. Unbreakable is Janet’s eleventh studio album, and whilst it never reaches the lows of her most uninspired work, it never quite reaches the heights of her greatest works.

It is overall a pleasing collection of highly polished R&B mid-tempo jams that are broken up with some (almost too) sweet ballads, and thankfully, there is only one interlude this time around; that’s a step in the right direction, as more often than not they add no enhancement to the tracks at all. Jackson wrote this 19-track, sixty-four plus minute album with trusted collaborators James Harris III and Terry Lewis, along with some further writers for the odd track here and there. Other than the fact that this record is just too long and a little too careful in its execution, I feel it is one of the stronger efforts in the Jackson catalogue. Five years after its release, there is still plenty to enjoy here. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Jackson’s vocals across the album are fantastic and I’ve always admired her for largely keeping her vocals untouched by the overused tech effects that have permeated that pop and R&B world over the last two decades. Jackson has always compensated her lack of vocal power with greater emphasis placed on her phrasing and nuances she peppers her tracks with. When the inspiration is there, Janet is truly a wonderfully emotive singer, which is still a joy to hear. There are several moments on this record that showcase that very fact, namely the gorgeous “After You Fall” and enchanting “Dream Maker / Euphoria,” the latter being a throwback to her ‘90s jams.

The record is at its hottest when the crew up the tempo and throw down some crisp floor fillers like “Burnitup!” (featuring Missy Elliott), “Dammn Baby” (a solid banger and ‘80s reheated) and “Night,” which is more circa The Velvet Rope era (in the good way.) The album’s most inspired moment is the slow-burning romance of “No Sleep” – the track itself is a low-key groove that Janet matches with a beautifully chill vocal delivery and the obligatory rap comes courtesy of J. Cole. “The Great Forever” finds Janet channelling her late brother MJ with uncanny ease; the track itself is straightforward pop, but the vocals are good fun.

The second half of the album is where things fall apart a bit, not in a big way but just enough to undo some of the great work across the first ten songs. There are some fun moments still, like the old school soul of “Gon’ Be Alright” (this one gets a full band treatment which sounds out of place on this set, but it’s a solid effort) and the hot mess that is “Love U 4 Life.”

Unfortunately, there are just too many songs that are far weaker than the really juicy stuff to be found here that make listening to the record in its entirety a hard slog, no less a long one, too. Unbreakable could have been a fantastic ten to twelve track album without a blemish but alas, the first half of the record contains some great work; the second half – not so much.

Rating: B

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