Beyoncé, Rihanna, Britney Spears, Janelle Monáe, F.K.A. twigs, Tinashe, Kelela — they’d probably all admit that Janet Jackson established their 21st-century archetypes decades in advance. So in a way, Ms. Jackson’s timing is appropriate for the release of “Unbreakable,” her first album since 2008 and the resumption of her collaboration with her longtime co-producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
Janet6Ms. Jackson’s albums — particularly the Jam-Lewis productions from “Control” in 1986 to “All for You” in 2001 — were pop that lived up to both commercial and innovative ambitions. She sold millions of albums and consistently topped the charts. But she also toyed with a broad spectrum of sounds and textures, from brittle, pointillistic funk to ultra-plush orchestrations infused with her own endlessly layered vocals. While she never had a big voice, she did wonders with her airy whisper.
In songs and videos, she embodied characters that live on in R&B and pop. She was the grown-up finding her own way in “Control.” She was the independent, no-means-no woman of “Nasty.” She was the idealistic community leader of “Rhythm Nation.” She was the Afrofuturist sci-fi heroine who shared a video with her brother Michael in “Scream” and leapt from planet to planet in “Feedback.” And in video after video, she’s the dancer who can suddenly sync an entire room to her angular moves.
Janet Jackson UnbreakableMost of all, Ms. Jackson has played the complete lover: a woman who mingles the sweetly cooing affection of “Come Back to Me” and the steamy sexuality of songs like “If” and “Any Time, Any Place.” Her later albums, like “Damita Jo,” all but dissolve into soft-core erotica — and the teaser single from “Unbreakable,” “No Sleeep,” promises an insomniac marathon of pleasure. But advance word of the album, and other songs she previewed as her tour began, have positioned “Unbreakable” as more family-oriented and socially conscious. It’s not as if current pop and R&B have left behind lust, romance, rhythm or thoughts of community and the future; Ms. Jackson should still be at home there. Her international tour has already begun, though it doesn’t reach the New York area until February. “Unbreakable” (Rhythm Nation/BMG) is due for release on October 2nd.