Matias: Hey Arnaud, what happened to your hair?
Arnaud: Well… I was in the mood for a change so I decided to make a hair extension and to curl them in order to look like Janet Jackson on the cover of her last album. Isn’t it so cool?
Matias: WTF! You look like a lioness… But in regards to the over-inflated cheekbones, I think you still need some work! Otherwise, the cover on the side, were you excited about this new Janet’s record?
Arnaud: I have to admit that I was not. I like Janet but I thought she was done. 7 years without an album, the loss of her brother that we all miss, a breakup with Jermaine Dupri and a disappointing LP “Discipline” released in 2008… I was not expecting anything!
Matias: For me, it’s the opposite feeling: The longer I wait, the more I’m excited! I’m a bit like the water on the fire so you can imagine how boiling I was after 7 long years! And it was worthy to wait! “No Sleeep”, the first single off the album, slightly puzzled me. I didn’t want the album to be slow and slack. I was not waiting for 7 years for that! Then “BURNITUP!” With Missy Elliott reassured me straight away. Now that I’ve listened to the whole album, I am convinced for good.
Arnaud: In my opinion, « No Sleeep » is very good unlike most people think. There is something heady, suave and subtle about it. I even think that J Cole doesn’t bring anything to the track which works very well its own way. This single aroused my curiosity about “Unbreakable” and I started to read about it. As I noticed it on “No Sleeep”, Janet went back to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis for this album. They were the producers who boosted her career in the mid-80s. At this time, they were working with Prince, the only credeible competitor of her brother. 7 years… This is huge! I read that first, she started to work on new material with Rodney Jenkins, who already was at the controls for the average “Feedback” and “Luv” in 2008. Luckily, in 2010, she decided to scrap everything they did together and to look for other people to work with. “Unbreakable” is not an album just to release an album! She really took decisions and assumed her choices for this one. She knew what she wanted, or at least what she didn’t want.
Matias: Despite Michael Jackson’s death in 2009, I have the feeling I hear him everywhere in this album. In the vocals, in the style… They were so close! “Scream” and its video stay a style exercise 20 years after! Everything was dope! The fact that she decided to work with Jam and Lewis shows that this is a choice and a reflection on her proper career, her personal life and to some extent on her brother. “Broken Hearts Heal” clearly deals with these painful moments in her life and in the background, the choirs sound like Michael was here with her.
Arnaud: And the least one can say is that during this turning point, Janet took decisions to pleases herself. She only followed her instinct. Despite a long break, she didn’t want to do a commercial comeback just to content the radios. Here, we’re miles away from mind-numbing and gross EDM. With her 30 years of career, she doesn’t have to prove anything! Without any support, except her current “Unbreakable World Tour”, the success is here for the album which just entered the Billboard 200 on the first spot this week. You will say this is normal, this is Janet Jackson… Yet Madonna and Mariah Carey both didn’t achieve to do the same with their last albums. The “elusive chanteuse” hardly sold 300.000 units worldwide of her last effort in 1 year!
What I like with Janet is that there is generally a consistent concept for every album she releases. This is not a compilation with 4 singles and some fillers like we have too often nowadays. Here, when “Unbreakable” starts, you know there’s gonna be 2 sides and the vinyl sound hints you that it is going to be a blast from the past.
You just talked about video clips. I just can’t wait for “BURNITUP!” The song is maybe the only one on this LP that is super radio-friendly, like “What Have You Done For Me Lately?”, “Nasty”, “Together Again” or “All For You”. And the Missy Elliott’s comeback! Janet runs on the words and I already imagine the break in the video, with an amazing choreography she only has the secret.
Matias: I could discuss these choreographic breaks for hours. I have my own experiences where, in a club, I was just pushing the people away in order to execute these dance moves. My favorite one is “All For You”. I almost died once but this is another topic I guess… As you say, Janet’s real strength is her spontaneity, her freedom. Nevertheless, I think this lack of smash hits may be a weakness of the album. Here we talk about pop music, we need a banger!
By working with her former collaborators, I was afraid of having a tacky record or something without any risks taking. I was surprised to discover something modern and old-school at the same time. Janet is eternal, she can sing whatever she wants. Her voice always fits the music and the genre. On the album, she goes totally pop with “The Great Escape” but she can also be R&B like on “Unbreakable” or “2 Be Loved”. She is a source of inspiration for DJs or artists such as Ciara or Tinashe, who moreover paid a tribute to her at the BET Awards. Her songs never get older, like her: she is going to die with a frozen face!
Arnaud: Ahah! « Damn Baby » especially reminded me of Tinashe or DJ Mustard too. « Night » is the proof that you can make the people dance without releasing EDM. This is funky, punchy and fierce. I’m sure the track will seduce her gay fans. She always was close to this community who never abandoned her. On “Shoulda Know Better” and “Take Me Away”, Janet applies a recipe that she’s used to. She alternates quiet verses and epic pop choruses, like in “Free Xone” on “The Velvet Rope”. Everything is mastered, humble and mature. You can feel the experience behind it.
The first part of the album is really catchy. You don’t have a proper single material but for me, what you can hear is better than a single. Then, the second part starts between “No Sleeep” and “Dream Maker/Euphoria”. There is a small interlude with a reversed old-school sample, as if it was meaning that we go back in time. In the side 2, we’re more into her intimacy and you can hear it through the lyrics and a sober production.
Matias: And you introduce here the second weakness of the album in my opinion: God, this is long! This is not the 90s anymore. We live in a period where everything has to go faster and has to be shorter. That is why artists release so many EP nowadays. As we said, she doesn’t care and she can go against this trend but for me, the album would have been perfect if 3 or 4 songs were skipped. I’m not fond of ballads anyways. I’m hysterical, I like to jump everywhere and passing on the floor for some break dance. I wish the video of “BURNITUP!” will last 10 minutes with a lot of dance moves. It’s almost my birthday Janet, please OFFER ME THIS GIFT!
Arnaud: Yes I can feel how hysterical you are! It’s a pity you don’t like the second party as much as the first one. I know your skills when you dance on country music. I thought that “Lessons Learned”, a ballad with a guitar à la mode US countryside, would push you to wear your infamous leather boots.
Arnaud: To conclude, I would like to say that we have a solid comeback in our hands. She gives you the envy to make love, and not to fuck. She motivates you to party with your friends, not to binge drink and to finish dead in the gutters. This is an album which gives the finger to all the young female artists who claim themselves being R&B princesses. Janet is a Queen and she doesn’t have to go on TV or on the radio to justify it! And I’m not even a fan of her, I’m just drawing conclusions. For me it’s a 7.5/10.
Matias: YAS QUEEN! Despite some off-peak moments and too many ballads for me, the first part of the LP makes me nut, there is nothing to throw away. I also give it a 8/10 with a special mention to “The Great Escape.”