On 'Invincible,' man-child Michael
Jackson cries and pouts

October 29, 2001


Arriving in stores tomorrow, the much-hyped "Invincible" is the latest attempt by
Michael Jackson to reclaim the title "King of Pop"--an appellation he assumed after
1982's "Thriller" sold 42 million copies to stand as the best-selling album ever.

That tremendous accomplishment continues to be a millstone around the neck of
the now 43-year-old former child star. It seems to have convinced this talented but
troubled man that it isn't enough for him to produce an album of motivating dance
grooves and tender ballads--though the new disc boasts several of each.

Jackson also feels compelled to make messianic claims of greatness that only invite
charges of failure if he doesn't live up to them. His first collection of new material in
six years was crafted at a reported cost of $28 million, employing an army of
big-name producers, including Rodney Jerkins, Babyface, Teddy Riley and
Chicago's R. Kelly.

What's more, like other fallen idols--from O.J. Simpson to the late President
Nixon--the singer continues trying to rewrite history, attempting to salvage a
reputation that may be far beyond that point.

One can question whether or not Jackson was guilty of any wrongdoing in 1995
when he settled charges of sexual contact with a 13-year-old boy by paying the
family an estimated $20 million. But even his most devoted fans will admit
that--what with Neverland and the menagerie, the masks and the strange skin
condition, the two failed marriages and the enduring obsession with childhood
trappings--he is at least a little bit unusual .

Rather than trying to convince us he's really perfectly normal, it would be nice if
Jackson would just drop all of that and concentrate on what he does best--singing
and crafting enjoyable pop music. And he does, some of the time.

The best moments on "Invincible" are surprisingly spartan, wonderfully kinetic
dance grooves such as the title track (which thankfully finds Jackson crooning
about a lover rather than talking about himself), "2000 Watts" and "Heartbreaker,"
a sort of nastier, new-millennial update on "Billie Jean."

There are also beautifully minimal, heartfelt romantic ballads such as "Speechless"
(one of two tracks written by Jackson alone, and opening with an impressive a
cappella passage), "Don't Walk Away," and "Cry," a tour de force of the
torch-song genre written and co-produced by Kelly.

If we could trim this bloated, 74-minute disc down to these tunes and maybe a few
others (the first single, "You Rock My World," minus the ridiculous intro with
comedian Chris Tucker, the wannabe wedding anthem "You Are My Life," and
comeback kid Carlos Santana's guest turn on "Whatever Happens"), it still
wouldn't be the "long-awaited return to form" that Epic Records is trying to sell us.
But it would be a strong and convincing if somewhat generic modern
R&B/dance-pop record.

Yet, as has been the case since "Thriller," Jackson doesn't know when to quit.

Several other tunes revisit the angry, indignant, "I've been wronged" tone that
marred 1995's "HIStory." Jackson's monumental ego runs wild on the first song,
"Unbreakable," when, over an otherwise endearing and hooky track, he brags,
"After all that I've been through/I'm still around/Don't you ever make no
mistake/Baby, I got what it takes." Then he trots out the Notorious B.I.G. from
beyond the grave to lend some hip-hop credibility. (A nobody rapper named Fats
also appears on the next two tracks.)

The concluding "Threatened" is also in the boastful, phony tough-guy mode. Then
there's the petulant "Privacy," which finds the star disingenuously complaining he
has none even as he ramps up for a multimillion-dollar publicity blitz. Raging at the
media, he whines, "Ain't the pictures enough/Why do you go through so much/To
get the stories you need/So you can bury me?/You've got the people
confused/You've got the stories confused/You try to get me to lose/The man I
really am."

Who that man might be remains a mystery because Jackson gives us only
inadvertent glimpses. Instead, he tries to hide behind the same cartoonish persona
he criticizes the press for probing. And that brings us to the album's worst track,
"The Lost Children." The other number Jackson wrote and produced entirely on his
own, this maudlin, overwrought, Disney-esque ballad collapses under its own
weight. It practically begs the skeptical listener to make unwelcome associations as
the singer croons about the plight of the missing children on the back of milk
cartons, and it ends with the unsettling sounds of a little boy and girl who are "lost in
the woods."

Given the questions that continue to linger over this artist's personal life, one would
think he would be anxious to sing about almost anything else (how about a little
"moon in June"?). Is he self-destructively drawn to this kind of material, or is he so
far removed from reality that he thinks no one will be troubled by any of this?

In the end, Jackson's past accomplishments continue to loom large in popular
culture. Britney Spears gushes about him as a major influence, Destiny's Child and
'N Sync mimic his moves and the nu-metal band Alien Ant Farm has a
breakthrough hit with its cover of "Smooth Criminal." But the star himself remains
damaged goods, and he has no one to blame but himself.