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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Track-By-Track: Janet Jackson - Unbreakable

It's been a long time since we've been treated with a new Janet Jackson album. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect and feared for the worst, but I love this woman so much and I'm so incredibly over-the-moon that Unbreakable is (personal bias aside) one of the absolute best albums of the year.

1. Unbreakable - Perched halfway between being an album intro and an actual song, this is a pleasant welcome and nod to her fans. the beat and hook are the strongest elements, as well as the back-to-basics spoken outro that seques (somewhat jarringly) into the next track. 9/10

2. BURNITUP! (ft. Missy Elliott) - Initially, I was a bit underwhelmed by this. I found the Missy Elliott "rap" to be obnoxious, even though I usually love Missy, and the melody and production to be dated. However, it fits in better in the context of the album. Still not the strongest track, but it does echo back to the kind of music Janet's been making for the past decade. In an album that feels like a comprehensive distillation of her career, this feels somehow necessary. Just maybe not as a single. 9/10

3. Dammn Baby - One of my favorites. It's not necessarily what I want or need from Janet, but my god this is a great urban pop track. The beat is reminiscent of many hits over the past couple of years, but the little production flourishes and vocal filters give this its own character. The nostalgic callback to I Get Lonely during the breakdown is wonderfully done as well. If any track was crying out to be released as a single, it's this one. 10/10

4. The Great Forever - I've always loved when Janet sings in her raspy, lower register. There's a lot of it on this track, which has quickly grown to be one of my favorites. I love the juxtaposition of the bubbly production and the biting vocal delivery. The production swirls into a near church-like crescendo towards the end, which gives an otherwise lightweight sound some heft. 10/10

5. Shoulda Known Better - Of all the tracks here, this is most reminiscent of her classic Rhythm Nation material. In addition to its socially conscious message, the stop/start production and melody has a classic 90's feel to it. The final, world-weary lyrics are heartbreaking. 10/10

6. After You Fall - A beautiful, haunting segue from the previous track. Though mostly known for her dance floor classics, there's a strong history of brittle ballads with simple, affecting melodies. After the Fall is no exception. Janet's never been called a powerhouse vocalist, but the amount of emotion she's able to convey with a pause or breath or vocal tremor is always impressive. 9/10

7. Broken Hearts Heal - Another highlight. What at first seems like a feather-light Motown pastiche quickly develops a sunny, irresistible beat. What really makes this stand out, though, are the autobiographical lyrics referencing her brother. 10/10

8. Night - A bright, ridiculously catchy 90's house number. For those who like Runaway-style Janet best, this is the track that most retains that upbeat, joyful sound. It marries classic Janet melodies with a more modern, almost Calvin Harris beat. 10/10

9. No Sleeep (ft. J. Cole) - This was the comeback track, and it's definitely a quiet storm. It's actually one of the album's most subdued tracks, opening with a rainstorm that characterizes the tone of what's to come. It's not my favorite track, but it's certainly classic Janet through and through. 10/10

10. Dream Maker / Euphoria - This opens "side two" of the album, and feels more like an extended intro than an actual song. Over lush harmonies, the track echoes the socially conscious message put forth earlier in the album. Janet sings in her higher register here, which isn't my favorite tone to her voice, but the song's pretty enough. It's probably my least favorite on the main album. 8/10

11. 2 B Loved - I've heard this compared to her single Doesn't Really Matter. It's not nearly as catchy, but retains that song's lighthearted, bouncy energy. 8/10

12. Take Me Away - This was the instant standout for me. I'm not sure that it's my absolute favorite track on the album, but it's definitely a highlight. Janet tackles the electro-rock genre, but fuses it to her soft, relaxing vocals. The guitar solo towards the end is super anthemic, and the whole thing just brings about a sense of euphoria. It feels like the "biggest" sounding track on the album. 10/10

13. Promise - This is basically an interlude that serves as a taster to the eighteenth track. Pretty, but not long enough to give it a rating.

14. Lessons Learned - This one snuck up on me. At first I thought it was a little boring, though I liked the story-like lyrics. Then I realized that Janet's always gorgeous harmonies are in full force on this. It brings me right back to classics like Come Back To Me and Let's Wait Awhile. The turns in melody throughout the track give it a beautiful, poetic quality that opens up the more you listen to it. 10/10

15. Black Eagle - Speaking of a poetic quality, Black Eagle is a spare, spiritual stream-of-conscious echo of a song. I have a feeling it will be one of the most enduring tracks on the album, What at first seems simple and almost childlike deepens and becomes more sonically and lyrically interesting the more you listen to it. 10/10

16. Well Traveled - Janet has a long history of touching on rock and country influences. It's one of the reasons I love and respect her so much as an artist. Instead of the ferocious intensity of past hits like Black Cat, this song is a slow burn, lighters-in-the-air type of anthem. It would work very well as an album or tour closer, though the same could be said for many of the tracks on the album. 9/10

17. Gon' Be Alright - This is another big departure in sound, as Janet delivers a fierce funk workout that really shows off her vocals (she recorded every single main and background vocal herself, even if it may not sound like it). The tempo and energy here is incredibly upbeat-- it's impossible to sit still. I'm not generally a huge fan of old funk music, but this is really something special. Absolutely explosive. 10/10


18. Promise Of You - If you've heard the interlude on the main album, extend that for a few minutes and you'll know exactly how this sounds. It's incredibly mellow and pretty, though I understand why it wasn't chosen for the main album. It would kind of kill the energy. It's still the stronger of the two bonus tracks, though. 8/10

19. Love U 4 Life - Despite being more uptempo, this is the blander of the two bonuses. Of every song, it's the hardest for me to remember. Of course, average Janet music is still evocatively produced and beautiful to listen to. 7/10

Album Grade: 9.3/10 (9.5 without bonus tracks) Highly Recommended

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