Published Oct 06, 2015Diving into Unbreakable, Janet Jackson's 11th album and first full-length effort in seven years, is something we do tentatively. Will the 49-year-old star look to reinvent herself to appeal to today's demo with embarrassing results? Will she cleave to nostalgia and present us with a trove of throwback tracks that lack resonance or relevance? We're happy to report that Jackson is back with something that appeals to old fans while giving new ones something to savour, too.
It's a good look that Jackson brought back long-time collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to assist in navigating the project; the trio create something that builds on legacy, instead of attempting to chase down today's R&B/soul sound. Her vocals have matured but remain as lively as ever, as evidenced on "The Great Forever," where she drops her register to sound much like her brother Michael. Single "No Sleeep," meanwhile, manages to sparkle with its Quiet Storm vibe and unapologetic '90s soul feel. Much anticipated Jackson/Missy Elliot collaboration "Burnitup!" is just okay — it bumps, but it's a bit too much on the old school tip for its own good — as is the Sly Stone-feeling "Gon' B Alright," but "Dammn Baby" hits the sweet spot between old and new, infectiously endearing and danceable, and "Night" is a runaway standout, revealing why Jackson was and is the initiator and innovator of the pop-soul sound.
What's startling is the sense of daring on Unbreakable. The project is simultaneously her comeback and reintroduction, but still skips across genres with abandon (see: "Lessons Learned" or "Well Traveled"). It's a successful return for Ms. Jackson, a grown-ass album that refuses either to pander or wallow in nostalgia. (Universal)