How Good Is Janet Jackson's First Album in 7 Years?

Plus, get reviews of the latest albums from Avicii, Garbage and more.

ByAllan Raible
October 07, 2015, 4:02 AM
PHOTO: Janet Jackson performs at American Airlines Arena on Sept. 20, 2015 in Miami.
Janet Jackson performs at American Airlines Arena on Sept. 20, 2015 in Miami.
Getty Images

— -- intro: This week Janet Jackson returns after a seven-year absence, Swedish DJ Avicii releases his second album, the members of Garbage celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut album, British post-punk band Editors return with their fifth album, Josh Homme and Jesse Hughes reunite as the Eagles Of Death Metal and actress Emily Kinney of “The Walking Dead” releases an album after dropping a couple of EPs.

quicklist: 1title: Janet Jackson’s “Unbreakable” ****text: “Unbreakable” is Janet Jackson’s first album since 2008’s “Discipline.” It also finds her re-teaming with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Jam and Lewis brought her to mega-pop-star status in the 80s with classic albums like “Control” and “Rhythm Nation 1814.” The two continued to work with her through 2001’s “All For You,” then handling a couple tracks on “Damita Jo” and “20 Y.O.” The fact that “Unbreakable,” then is Janet’s most consistent and enjoyable release since “All For You” shouldn’t be a surprise. The lesson here is that, after working with each other for nearly thirty years, Jackson, Jam and Lewis know exactly how to work well together. She has consistently made her best records with them by her side.

What’s striking about “Unbreakable” is its sheer subtlety. Sure, there are a couple in-your-face jams like the shiny electro funk of “Damn Baby” or the Missy Elliott-assisted “BURNITUP!” but for the most part this is a collection of low-key R&B, either in the “smooth-lovin’” vein of the hit “No Sleep” (featuring J. Cole) or showing a quieter, more melancholy side like on “After You Fall.” “Black Eagle” even has a meditative, gospel-like prayer energy. The fact that this is Jackson’s first album since her brother Michael’s untimely 2009 death may also be a reason for this album’s downbeat energy. Her uncanny vocal similarity to her brother on “The Great Forever” is enough to stop you momentarily in your tracks, even if it can be chalked up simply to genes. That resemblance has always existed. Now without Michael it is both comforting and a little haunting, particularly when you consider the two share a distinct knack for vocal phrasing.

This album is not immediate. If you are looking for something as iconic as her work on “Control,” “Rhythm Nation” or “Janet.,” this record may seem a little subdued in comparison. (It takes a few listens to make its impression.) Really this album carries the latter-day charm of “The Velvet Rope” and “All For You.” After the somewhat unimpressive results of her last three records, this is the sound of Janet getting back on track. She’s as smooth as ever with an occasional electro shine. At its core, “Unbreakable” finds Janet quietly regrouping and going back to her essence. If loved her previous work, there is plenty to enjoy here. True to its title, this album shows Janet Jackson’s resilience.

Focus Tracks:

“Unbreakable” This title-track is a slice of smooth disco-funk, with a touch of retro “new jack swing” swagger, anchored by a beat full of chopped-up vocal samples. This is a hit waiting to happen and it opens the album with both power and warmth.

“The Great Forever” This is a mature club track with a slightly trippy alternative edge. Again, this song has some strong hit-potential, with its damaged and distorted digital riff, which builds into a driving chorus.

“Gon’ B Alright” The album’s closer is an upbeat track that obviously pays tribute to Jackson’s brothers’ work in the Jackson 5. In fact it sounds like a modern answer to their hits “Dancing Machine” and “The Life Of The Party,” at a time when disco was creeping into their sound. There is also a strong Sly & The Family Stone influence here as well.

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