Seven years after Feedback, Janet Jackson has returned to the pop music landscape with her 11th studio album, Unbreakable. The record’s title works on many levels: it may refer to Jackson’s unbreakable optimism, which is pervasive throughout the LP; it may refer to her ability to overcome life’s hardships (the death of her brother, Michael, a Super Bowl nip-slip and the termination of a seven-year relationship); or it may refer to the unbreakable mold of underdeveloped, overproduced pop R&B tracks that, together, form the entirety of her new album.
Moments on Unbreakable fall into a few categories: the repetitive, the cliché and the wandering. That may not sound too blundering; however, the repetitive moments are not catchy, the clichés don’t recognize themselves as such and the wandering fails to discover anything terribly stimulating.
“BURNITUP!” has potential with the heavy bass and a Missy Elliott feature, but the repeated phrases “turn it up” and “burn it up” don’t invite any participation beyond some slight head nodding (maybe). Even more disappointing is the degree to which Missy Elliott’s verse is boring. Elliott, as shown by her Super Bowl appearance, might be ready for a comeback, but if this is any indicator of it’s content, she might be best left in her Greatest Hits era.
Opener “Unbreakable” offers an acceptable beat, but amid the many layers of vocal tracks and the unimaginative chorus, the song’s potential is lost. In the same vein, every lyric on “Shoulda Known Better” has been heard on another track. At its best moment, though, the instrumental build is just enticing enough to hear it out. “Broken Hearts Heal” can be described in the exact same fashion — minus the a capitivating production.
However, the metaphor behind “Well Traveled” is original. Jackson has come a long way, and she’s still going, but this song still won’t go anywhere. She croons about traveling as she sings in circles. Individually, the lyrics are OK, but compiled together nothing greater is revealed. In “Black Eagle,” another wanderer begins with another metaphor. “Let me tell you about the black eagle,” she says. And after that initial intro, we don’t hear a damn thing about that eagle again.
While the album lacks in the majority of areas, it does have a couple moments of cohesive, coherent content. “2 B Loved” has the retro/modern feel that has been bombarding pop-culture recently (i.e. “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson, “Classic” by MKTO etc. etc.). And despite the fact that Kendrick Lamar filled the “We gon’ be alright” quota, “Gon’ B Alright” by Jackson has the heart and enthusiasm behind her delivery to make it one of the album’s stand-outs.
From the moment track one ends, it’s easy to realize that this is an album for Jackson’s longtime fans as she says “I’m glad you’re still here / I dedicate myself to you / I hope you enjoy.” I am not one of these fans (obviously), but their dedication to Jackson and Jackson’s dedication to them, as well as to her artistry, is respectable at the very least. “Unbreakable” might not break out of the mold, but at least it’s the mold Jackson created herself.