Janet Jackson, evergreen pop icon and High Priestess of R n B is back, kicking ass and taking names after a hiatus of 7 years with ‘Unbreakable’ her flinty new album released via her new, bespoke label Rhythm Nation Records. It’s a much-welcomed, funky, retro and rich return to form that comes courtesy of her long awaited re-partnership with Flyte Tyme’s Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. This wicked collaboration is once again the bearer of much delicious fruit.
Recorded between Qatar, Paris and The Middle East, ‘Unbreakable’ is a swirling mixture of subtle yet powerful arrangements and lyrics, sassy, profound and reflective lyrical vignettes with lively lead / backing vocal arrangements (and the signature JJ adlibs and answer backs which spice the tracks with their goosebump-inducing skills). Her whispered, come hither coos drape over the totality like sexy satin sheets whilst the dance to disco vibe takes you on a journey through dirty grime, slo-mo electronica and hip hop and over to laidback and hi impact disco workouts with the smoothest of transitions throughout.
Janet is confident when emotionally vulnerable in the downtempo numbers like ‘After You Fall’ where her fragile vocal is laid over a sparse piano and guitar arrangement. Lyrically it feels like a love letter to Michael or maybe even a questioning reflection on her own life post-wardrobe malfunction. Then ‘No Sleeep’ is reminiscent of the ‘Velvet Rope ‘Got Til It’s Gone’ era but 2015 sexier.
The album tells its story in two distinct parts – one dancefloor oriented and one more experimental. ‘BURNITUP’ leads the charge on the dance side with its ‘Fire in the hole, burn that sh*t up’ rallying cry, booty bumping beats and larger than life Missy Elliott rap. ‘Broken Hearts Heal’ initially seems like a pop and finger snap road trip that motors along with the breeze in your hair until the deep house beats roll through the arrangement. ‘Night’ has that block party ‘Go Deep’ disco vibe that keeps parties bouncing.
Guitars and socially conscious philosophy feature heavily on the more experimental tracks like ‘Lessons Learned’, ‘Well Travelled’ and ‘Black Eagle’. Dream Maker / Euphoria will touch a nerve with fans of producers like Jarreau Vandal, Lido, Zach Witness with its reversed vocal effects, quirky, synth heavy electronica and diving bell deep bassline. ‘2 B Loved’ has flashes of MJ’s ‘Lady In My Life’ but thanks to its spirited and playful vocals, full fat funk and squashy bottom end it never moves far from the centre of the dancefloor. The closest things to compromise are the pounding Calvin Harris-esque ‘I Shoulda Known Better’ and the stadium rocky ‘Take Me Away’ with its Coldplay-esque scottish sounding guitar licks. ‘Promise’ is a dark, flamenco inspired vocal interlude and the penultimate cut ‘Gon B Alright’ is an upbeat pop, Motown / Beatles influenced dance floor detonator that closes the album in style. It’s perfect for concert encores and talk show live appearances. It gets the people going.
‘Unbreakable’ shows Ms Jackson in strapping shape and is an assured return to form that illuminates and signposts all roads to a successful World Tour. Her 2016 UK dates were announced this week so you will find me stalking her every move from the front row, lip syncing, dancing; crying happy tears and getting down with my bad self at either the O2 in London on March 31st or the Manchester Arena on April 5th. Yes, I am forward planning from October 2015 to a gig in 2016 and yes, the album is that good. Welcome back Janet Jackson.
4 out of 5
Reviewed by Paulette