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Janet Jackson
Unbreakable Mof Gimmers , October 20th, 2015 19:37

Despite being wealthy and successful, there's still an air of 'always the bridesmaid' about Janet Jackson, thanks in part to existing in the considerable shadow of her older brother Michael, and of course, being continually usurped in pop-culture's short-term memory by younger, hungrier performers. For a while, Janet has been existing in her own, perfectly curated universe, backed for the most part by the talents of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, quietly getting on with things without a lot of the bombast that surrounds much of pop-music. Since the days of making exquisite 80s synth-soul and industrial soul-pop monsters like 'Rhythm Nation', she really found her groove on the irresistible Janet LP in 1993.

Between the commercial hits, Janet Jackson consistently made a number of excellent albums. 2004's Damita Jo album was bursting with ideas and hooks, but buried thanks to being blacklisted after that Superbowl halftime performance. 'Discipline' was an album that was overlooked, despite being as fresh and forward thinking as anything from a host of upstarts. Janet, isn't an artist prone to grand statements, but rather, makes music as someone who obsesses over the music. Those that followed Janet owe her a great debt. From Aaliyah – much revised of late with every third R&B singer compared to her whether it grants it or not - who was clearly a big fan of Janet's output; to Ciara, who phrases her songs and a tracks with Janet in her subconscious. Brandy and Erykah too, both known for their deep, heavy jams, owe much to the work Janet put in first. While all these artists would happily acknowledge that, there seems to be a little forgetfulness on the part of the critical pop thinking.

Now, in 2015, Janet is revisiting all corners of her career with her new album Unbreakable, which couples Janet's love of the dancefloor, mid-tempo come-to-bed grooves and pure pop. As ever, Janet is utterly evergreen where a lot of her peers have fallen foul of either crowbarring modern production into their songs, or indeed, being curmudgeons who react against the current templates, rather than incorporating them. Janet can switch between her own classic signatures, and new music, sometimes in the same song, without some of the hamfistedness seen elsewhere (I'm looking at you, Madonna).

With the opening, self-titled track, Janet starts off dreamy and easy, before the track drops into a perfect groove – pin-point hi-hats, rich harmonies and well-oiled bass. On the previously released single 'No Sleeep', it was evident Janet hadn't lost it, creating the kind of track that is so sumptuous and effortless that it sounds like someone captured the perfect evening in a bottle. Regrettably, the album version is the one that includes J.Cole's rap-by-numbers, but no matter: it isn't awkward enough to detract from a strong long-player.

Of course, there's some high profile tracks present, with the Missy Elliott-featuring 'BURNITUP!' (which comes off like an updated 'Love Sex Magic') and 'Night'. Janet keeps it current too, with 'Dammn Baby' and '2 B Loved', which takes back from the DJ Mustard-esque production that borrowed from her early albums. As ever, with big soul releases, there's one eye on the stadium shows. As we've seen with Beyonce's XO, Janet aims for the back row of the hall with 'Shoulda Known Better' and 'Well Traveled'.

One of the big talking points of this album is the sections where Janet lets her guard down. Unbreakable is Janet's first album since the death of her older brother, and likewise, the breakdown of her relationship with Jermaine Dupri. There's a lot of heartache to process, especially on 'After You Fall', one of the most tender, heartbreaking songs of 2015. When 'Broken Hearts Heal' rolls in, we hear Janet reminiscing: "It was the summer that you left me/the fall and winter never felt so cold/And Lord know words can never express it/Life feels so empty - I miss you so much/Painful tears like never before/we can't laugh together until we cry/but our love ain't no material thing/insha'Allah, see you in the next life."

All-in-all, Janet has made an album that is sophisticated and personal, but carrying that trademark carefree, freewheeling atmosphere that makes her so wonderful. Only Janet could sneeze and bless herself mid-song, and get away with it. The fact is, regardless of the work that goes into her music, it doesn't ever feel like it is trying too hard, which is not something Janet ever sounded like anyway. There's echoes of 'That's The Way Love Goes' and 'Doesn't Really Matter' for fans of the hits, as well as nods to what's happening now. There's those deep-cuts that the fanatics will kill for. This won't surprise any of Janet's fans or anyone who is fully paid-up soul enthusiast – and that is why Janet Jackson has endured as an artist.

And yes, Unbreakable features that most perfect of things – Janet's giggle. Janet's small, perfect voice is just the thing we need in a year of caterwauling. Pop-culture forgot her for too long. In a just world, this album might change that.