05 10

Janet Jackson Unbreakable Rhythm Nation

On Broken Hearts Heal, Janet Jackson sings, “But our love ain’t no material thing / Inshaallah, see you in the next life”. She might be talking about the death of her brother – this is her first record since then. She could be talking about anything. But the most telling aspect of that lyric is the use of ‘Inshaallah’ – Arabic for ‘God willing’.

It is widely believed that Janet Jackson has converted to Islam. It’s not something her or her camp have ever felt the need to confirm or deny, but it would make sense in the landscape of her catalogue. Be it from the expectations of her father, the crippling scrutiny of the media or the age-old limitations surrounding sexualisation for females in pop – Jackson was always trying to break free. Unbreakable, her 11th studio LP, is what comes after. A spiritually settled artist turning the lens out on bigger, albeit vaguer, themes.

At 17 tracks, Unbreakable isn’t a statement in the same way The Velvet Rope was. Tracks like 2 B Loved and Daamn Baby are somewhat muddled interpretations of the DJ Mustard club sound which detract from the record’s overarching timelessness. Similarly, Shoulda Known Better and Night aim for the charts of today and end up landing somewhere in-between Liberty X and a 2006 Clubland compilation.

These misfires can be forgiven though. No Sleeep is one of her best eyes-wide-shut anthems, the heavenly chorus of the title track is impos- sible to stay stoney-faced to and Promise – a 60-second samba interlude – shows that she’s still one of our most puzzling pop luminaries. These songs come from a place of tranquility after a lifetime of introspection. Not the most refined comeback record but good enough to polish a crown. As she whispers on Black Eagle, “You’ll never know, unless you’ve been there”.