Near the start of Unbreakable, Janet Jackson pauses her intro to utter a single word. It might sound hackneyed on paper, but here the intent is hard to doubt. “Love,” she says, the crystal purity of the word never so evident as it echoes around us. Janet Jackson is back, and she’s once again on a different plane.
We’re not going to bore you about Janet’s age, or the space between her albums; these are trivialities that don’t inform anything on her latest record as much as her mental state. Janet’s always been relatively calm, even at her most seductive, but here she feels like a woman at peace, steely and, yes, unbreakable.
That mentality comes across in her sound. There aren’t any attempts to match what her dozens of disciples might be trying to do; this is Janet doing Janet, a woman revelling in her own space and sound, her own happiness that doesn’t require the denigration of others. She’s having fun on tracks like BURNITUP!, or suddenly changing tack and tempo on The Great Forever. There are very few artists who’d keep a sneeze and “bless you” in a recording, but that’s the sort of record this is – honest even in its perceived flaws, but revelatory in the innocent giggle that follows. As the track blooms further, a line like “it’s sad it when it takes such a beautiful thing, blow it up and call it the news” sounds more sincere thanks to the little believable moments before it.
But this isn’t by any means a perfect album, nor by any means Janet Jackson’s best, even though the team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have grown with Jackson, meaning their sound has matured together to deliver gorgeous ballads like Broken Hearts Heal. It takes a fair bit of wading to find gems that will probably stick with us for more than just one listen – MJ tribute Broken Hearts Heal is a bit twee for our tastes, yet No Sleeep is the sultriest bedroom jam of the year – and even then the hit-rate is at best less than half. Still, the experience of hearing Janet Jackson sing again, that too in such an ostensibly content place, is a delightful one; it may not be a completely unbreakable piece of work, but the cracks are worn with such candour that it’s difficult not to love.
Unbreakable by Janet Jackson can be ordered here.