At 49 years young, Janet Jackson has returned on October 2nd to show the music world that she is not done yet.
Unfortunately, with her new album Unbreakable, , Ms. Jackson falls into the stereotypical pitfalls of an artist attempting self-revival by releasing new work long after their time in the spotlight. Most of the music sounds like generic, 90’s pop conflicting with a failed connection to an older era from the modern day. This album is by no means horrible, and there are definitely a handful of enjoyable songs on Unbreakable. Nonetheless, the album overall is cheap, basic R&B-pop at best.
Although I critique Janet’s awkward blends of the past and present in genre, I believe she creates some of her best when she channels her 80’s new wave and R&B mix. On tracks like “Dammn Baby,” “Promise,” and “The Great Forever,” one can undoubtedly hear the influence of artists like Prince and Janet’s late-and-great brother Michael in Janet’s vocal style and nostalgic synth techniques. These tracks create something unspectacular, but enjoyable enough for a listen once-through.
Incessant repetition is a great detriment to Unbreakable. I can accept that an artist is not bringing anything innovative to an album, only so long as the basic music is made well. Further, the songs should at least offer a variety of previously overdone techniques. For the most part on this album though, a listener can begin a song, then skip to anywhere on the track and feel as though not a beat has been missed. Every track is uniform throughout, without any particular rises, falls, or sudden shifts.
Certain tracks seem to defeat uniformity in their initial interest and brevity. “Dream Maker/Euphoria” is a short track that begins with a catchy, nostalgic, Motown-esque intro that turns into a sexualized-style pop. The music does not waver after this change, but the initial Motown charm is enough to make the track a highlight of the album.
Songs that try and conform to the modern era fused with early 1990’s, 2000’s style pop- Jackson’s relative “peak” period of fame are the worst of Unbreakable. There is a clear indie-R&B flavor in these songs—a modern trend adopted by many artists of today, including the Weeknd and Frank Ocean. The slow, drawn-out sexualized sound is easily overdone, especially in light of the repetition already present on the album. Jackson seems to struggle through “No Sleeep” feat. J. Cole, awkwardly attempting to mimic a style appropriate to J. Cole’s genre until Jackson can finally stop singing and let him go into his verse.
Jackson should take note of her lack of comfort in this genre and divert back to what had made her previously popular. Nothing is more fun on this album than hearing her and Missy Elliot go crazy on “BURNITUP!” a nonspecific, yet perfectly entertaining dance track.
Unbreakable feels like a shotgun attempt to stay relevant, with an appeal to too many genres and sloppy production. This album is quite long as well; nineteen tracks is certainly enough for two LP’s. Jackson would have been better off with half as many tracks and more refinement. Unbreakable emphasizes an ill-planned attempt to throw out as much music as possible. Janet has not given us masterpieces in the past, and at this point it looks unlikely that listeners will receive any more in the future. Another average, generic dance album is what I expect in years to come if this is not the final album that we will see from Ms. Jackson.