When Janet Jackson released Unbreakable, it must have seemed that the weight of the Jackson Family was on her shoulders. After a prolonged period of seclusion in some far away kingdom and a few failed relationships later, only the occasional gossip rag would remind us that the second most popular Jackson was once a media force to be reckoned with.
Just Like Old Times
Janet’s carefully planned comeback included a reunion of sorts with her original hit making collaborators: Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Over the years Janet kept ahead of trends by refining and in some cases inventing them, much like Madonna. While not as influential as Madonna, her star was rising just as quickly as the ’90s began. That juggernaut slowed down or was less obvious by the time 2008’s Discipline was released. For anyone but her most devoted fans, Janet had become almost irreverent in the new R&B (pop) landscape dominated by the Beyoncés and Rihannas, of the world. For Janet, Unbreakable had a two part mission.
To Be Unbreakable You Must Be Invincible
Unbreakable was similar to Michael Jackson’s Invincible in that after a hiatus, it was an effort to reestablished and remind listeners why their respective brand of Jackson was so special in the first place. Both albums reaffirmed a modern and mature stage of either artist’s career against a history of youth oriented pop. Janet even names drops her brother’s under rated album in her attempt to move on creatively.
Unlike Michael’s Invincible, no controversy surrounds Janet so Unbreakable is free to be discovered on its own merits. Both albums are especially noteworthy in that they faced extreme obstacles from either lack of promotion (Invincible) or possibly too much of it (Unbreakable) in a digital world where everything is expected to be streamed for free. Talk show host Wendy Williams even went as so far to discourage Janet’s comeback stating that she would not be prepared for a music world where (free) streaming would give her art away. Fortunately Janet did not heed Williams’ advice.
The Evolution of Ms. Jackson
For Janet we see her now as a fully evolved woman in the suburbs of middle age. With such distinction, a more mature approach to song writing has separated her from her younger peers. Fortunately for fans of Ms. Jackson, age does not quell her desire to try new things, as Unbreakable is the most innovative album from Janet since 1997’s The Velvet Rope.
In addition to covering various dance and pop styles, Unbreakable manages to place Janet back in the forefront of pop in a way that keeps her timeless yet relevant.
The tracks like Missy Elliot’s “Burnitup!” sound very ‘now’ and could stamp this collection to a particular time, but a number of classically Jacksonesque songs like “Promise” and “Night” sound both timely and timeless.
Of equal importance to Janet’s evolution as an artist is that of the production duo that made her a star. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis often save their flagship production styles for Janet and on Unbreakable the duo’s touch is most evident on one of the album’s most impressive tracks “No Sleep”, the album’s first single.
In addition to covering various dance and pop styles, Unbreakable manages to place Janet back in the forefront of pop in a way that keeps her timeless yet relevant. The track listing is nearly epic, but never settles into conformity or gives the impression of filler.
The pressure as the last working Jackson might have been immense, but Janet has made a mature recording with all of her savvy intact. Still, it’s comforting to see an artist who is is approaching 50 that can still dazzle audiences of any age.