By Michael Cerio

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Looking back, Janet Jackson has always been reflective of the pop culture climate. It just so happens she’s often better at it than most.

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In 1986 Control leaned on the same drum machine and synth beats as the rest of the era, Jackson just had too much swagger to be lumped in with the rest. 1989’s Rhythm Nation was built on the same big beat funk infused pop as Paula Abdul and Bobby Brown, but they didn’t have the theatrics of Janet. In 1993 Janet pulled off sexy with more class than the rest and managed to both capture the slow groove of the late 90’s and the beginning of a resurgent Mouseketeer led pop scene on 1997’s The Velvet Rope. While credit often goes to Madonna for reinvention, there’s something to be said for Jackson’s ability to sense the scene and dress better for the weather than anyone else.

Janet Jackson continued to attempt being “of a time” for most of the next decade, but most of it failed to stick. There was a song here and there but never a standout in a movement like she had enjoyed before. Her last try was 2008’s sexed up Discipline where she did her best Rihanna impression and asked for you to “feed her fetish please.”

So with eight years to figure out what’s next and where she fits in, what’s most interesting is that she seems content to go her own way.

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Unbreakable certainly plays around with a few trends like the dancefloor banger “BURNITUP” with Missy Elliot, or the thick hip hop rattler “Dammn Baby”. The peppy rock-infused “Take Me Away” seems very now, however it’s how varied and experimenting she seems throughout Unbreakable that makes this something completely different.

Reteamed with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the icon spreads out over 17 tracks that find her relaxed to a whisper over sparse piano on “After You Fall”, and revved up in 60’s soul stylings with stomping album closer “Gon’ B Alright”. She sings about love and compassion but rarely sex. “No Sleep” is an exception that finds her longing over a pulsating stormy beat, yet she never gets explicit.

It seems like somewhere after losing her brother Michael and getting married again she’s found contentment, and it shows it what she sings, even how she sings it. As varied as the production that surrounds Janet is, her voice is mostly at a soft story-time level. Even when she’s asking the DJ to “turn it up” she remains peaceful and comforting.

Because she doesn’t seem to be chasing anything, Unbreakable plays best as a full album experience. The hooks aren’t there for a string of singles but in context her Poison power ballad delivery on “Well Traveled” or the sparkling pop of “2 B Loved” work well. It all paints a picture of a settled artist. It’s not flashy or bold, but it plays more authentic then we’ve heard from Janet Jackson in a long time.

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Janet Jackson brings her Unbreakable World Tour to the Wells Fargo Center on February 24th.