Album review: Janet Jackson seems at peace with lavish new album
Janet Jackson’s eleventh album is all about closing chapters and new beginnings.
The 49-year-old diva experienced this first hand during the interval since her disappointing 2008 album Discipline – a year after its release, her brother Michael Jackson died under controversial circumstances and in 2012, she married the Qatari business tycoon Wissam Al Mana in a secret ceremony.
Both her public grief and private joy are touched upon in Unbreakable. However, don’t expect any angry missives or too many gooey lyrics. Jackson, through her clear, yet mostly subdued, vocal performances and relatively straight wordplay, is a woman at peace.
The all-round positivity is complimented by producers and old cohorts Jam and Lewis’ detailed production. With the exception of the few urgent club bangers most of the tracks are lavish with warm layered keyboards, muted bass lines and beats more content to slither than pounce. The title track is the clearest example of Jackson in her new Zen-pop mode: one can imagine that a few years ago this would have been a more raucous affair. Here, the track is a mid-tempo jam that revolves around a superb vocal sample as Jackson soulfully hails the blessings of reflection: “I lived through my mistakes, it’s just a part of growing.”
The club-ready Burn It Up lives up to its title courtesy of a fierce guest spot by rapper Missy Elliot and trunk-rattling beats, while the follow up Damn Baby is irresistibly funky with its super-fat bass lines. It is in the quieter moments when Unbreakable shines. In the highlight, After You Fall, it’s only Jackson and a mournful piano. Despite her lack of vocal range, her sheer determination to connect makes the elegiac ballad stirring. It is also lyrically revealing as it could act both as love letter to her new husband and ruelful apology to her fallen brother: “After you fall/ Who’s gonna care for you/ After it all,” she laments. While in the tender Broken Hearts Heal she addresses her brother’s passing directly, with restraint and elegance. Jackson looks to the future with optimism courtesy of her new found Muslim faith. “But our love ain’t no material thing,” she tells her Michael. “Inshallah, see you in the next life.”
Levity arrives in the summery escapism of Take Me Away and the bongo-led Bossa nova shuffle of Promise. Both lead up to the celebratory closer Gon’ B Alright which is a funk workout recalling upon all her influences from Sly and The Family Stone to The Jackson 5.
Bruised but grateful, Unbreakable is the sound of Jackson back on track artistically and emotionally — an effort we can’t help but cheer.