There’s a lot to be said about Unbreakable, Janet‘s 11th album and first in over seven years. For one, the time span since her last release definitely worked to her advantage to make the thirst real, compared to fellow icons Madonna and Mariah who seem too willing to refill the glass when it isn’t even half empty. A simple case of absence making the heart grow fonder.
It might also be important to note that Unbreakable is Janet’s first album outing since the passing of her brother. Important because there are points in the album where she sounds uncannily like MJ. Her voice has gotten noticeably deeper and it sometimes comes as a distraction since at times she almost passes for him, right down to liberal use of his signature vocal tics on Broken Hearts Heal.
The album is all about familiarity and with familiarity comes comfort. Janet reunited with longtime collaborators and producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis for Unbreakable to recreate the sounds and styles she’s become known for. The first song out, No Sleeep, is a return to the sultry style from past hits like Anytime, Anyplace.
Other than J. Cole‘s verse on No Sleeep, the only other artist to make an appearance on the record is Missy Elliott, which is telling. Rather than attempt to appeal to new and younger audiences by featuring today’s biggest acts, Janet sticks to her tried and true formula. The collab with Missy on BURNITUP! is their first since the remix of Son Of A Gun in 2001 and, despite Missy’s disappointing contribution – which is unfortunate considering her own return has been TBA longer than Janet’s – the song is everything to expect from an upbeat pop song by Janet. It has a hook. It has a solid beat. And it stands out well alongside others like All For You and Feedback.
Going deeper, the album boasts some more great hooks and catchy cuts. Night is a straight-up jam and even with its throwback-house sound, it’s one of album’s modern track; Take Me Away would have been a hit a la Someone To Call My Lover if this were 2000 again; and the folky Lessons Learned comes as a surprise as led by acoustic guitar with minimal beat that stands as an album highlight.
Shoulda Known Better is a commentary on world social issues that regrettably connects itself to the social justice themes from Rhythm Nation, which too often overlap as the same issues of that record from 26 years ago, as she sings “I had this great epiphany/And Rhythm Nation was the dream/I guess next time I’ll know better.”
Unbreakable is an album layered in comfort, confidence, personal acceptance and growth, and Janet basks in it. It’s a quality that makes it so pleasing to listen to. As the record ends, it does so on a high note with Gon’ B Alright conveniently wrapping things up. But as she says on Well Traveled, it’s not the last word as she sings about the past and the future and what’s still to come: “I never wanna arrive/Cause if I ever reach there/There’s no place left to go.”
2. BURNITUP! [featuring Missy Elliott]
3. Dammn Baby
4. The Great Forever
5. Shoulda Known Better
6. After You Fall
7. Broken Hearts Heal
9. No Sleeep [featuring J. Cole]
10. Dream Maker / Euphoria
11. 2 B Loved
12. Take Me Away
14. Lessons Learned
15. Black Eagle
16. Well Traveled
17. Gon’ B Alright