Janet Jackson is back.
It’s a statement that can still seem more fiction than fact. Even for someone that finally experienced the star in live format earlier this week via the Unbreakable Tour, I watched in disbelief as Miss Jackson defied conventional wisdom by sailing through her massive string of hits while executing dance moves far better than her younger imitators. Indeed for those brave enough to go see the pop star this year, the Unbreakable tour is likely to exceed expectations of the most discriminating fans.
That’s the tour, and today we get to hear what she’s working so hard to promote. After a summer of rumors and anticipation, Unbreakable has arrived. I don’t know if I can call this a review, but maybe some informed observations from a good fan? A ‘first view’? Well whatever you want to call it, here are my thoughts after spending Day One with Unbreakable.
2015 finds a Janet with ‘lots to talk about’, and most notably going to some places that we didn’t expect from her previous catalog. After a career spent trying to establish her own sound in contrast to others of the surname, finally we see Jackson lean in, even embrace the legendary influence of her brothers. The album’s title track, Dream Maker/ Euphoria and closer Gon’ B Alright find the songstress delivering vocal stylings inspired by The Jackson 5. As Jimmy Jam stated in an interview with the BBC, vocals on the latter may leave listeners wondering if Janet herself is singing all parts on the track. Much to our surprise, everything is her. Dream Maker/ Euphoria is a soul-tastic fantasy world where sweeping Motown-esque samples at the opening exuviate into Janet’s sultry vocal over a crucial bass. It’s a resplendent journey for sure.
Another highlight is BURN IT UP!- an infectious club thumper built on beautiful and mysterious arabic dance music. The culture clash definitely doesn’t seem by accident, as Jackson has already offered a deep appreciation to the traditions of her current home country. The end result shows that the legendary pop team knows how to get the world moving no matter what hemisphere they’re in.
After a fun club tune, Dammn Baby offers another romp into “current” pop trends– well kind of. As Jam, Lewis and Jackson are well aware, so much of today’s musical sound is rooted firmly in elements first heard in the 80s— heavy synth over intricate rhythmic and colorful instrumental texture. As a result, it’s kind of unfair to claim these musical legends as imitators. But inspired by the sounds of radio today, they recognize that the pendulum has swung “forward” in their favor. Oh, they’re able to speak the 2015 language much better than several of their “younger” counterparts. Let’s hope this song gets some love from the radio spotlight.
On Shoulda Known Better, Jackson explores themes of her socially-conscious past. It’s a conversation between the 23-year old Rhythm Nation superstar and her more experienced self in 2015, realizing that the only way we can hope to achieve a better world is by first coming together and seeing our common humanity.
It’s never the critic that counts
Cause critics only wanna talk
While enlightened minds and open hearts
Together make this world a better place
I had this great epiphany
And rhythm nation was the dream
I guess next time I’ll know better
Other highlights include the EDM/Minneapolis/ jazz piano collaboration on Night, the quiet storm classic and current RnB chart-topper No Sleeep and a poignant tribute to brother Michael in Broken Hearts Heal. In the latter, Jackson shares the album’s most deeply personal lyrics, wrapped in a light, breezy aura of faithful optimism. And yes, your ears are not deceiving you– a quote to Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough aerates through the track.
There’s a lot more to discover in this quality body of work. At this stage in their careers, Jackson, Jam and Lewis have every right to sit back, reminisce and be proud of their historic accomplishments. But perhaps the greatest beauty of Unbreakable is that it serves as a reminder of how special artistic expression is to the human experience. As critical as the air we breathe, the need of all people have to communicate, connect, converse and feel never subsides. A goal that is definitely achieved in this album.
So those are my impressions, but check out what the actual music critics are saying too. Here’s Complex Music UK, Vulture and The Atlantic to get started. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.
Photo Credit: YuTsai
2015 marks the 33rd year since Janet Jackson became a solo artist. Check out the 16-year old Janet performing her first ever single, the aptly-titled Young Love on Soul Train.
UPDATE October 12th 2015:
Unbreakable is officially a hit!! Janet Jackson’s new album makes a Number 1 debut on the Billboard charts. With the impressive seventh album to reach the top, Jackson now earns the historic distinction of holding number 1 albums across 4 decades– the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s.
As Ms. Jackson might say herself, it’s fait accompli. Congratulations Janet!!