'history' doesn't leave 'bad' mark on 'invincibility'
By Jason Caesar Consolacion
Michael Jackson seems to have mastered
the art of re-creating himself, both physically and musically.
Kevin Mazur/Epic Records
The self-proclaimed "King
of Pop," Michael Jackson, performs one of his signature dance moves at
the benefit show "United We Stand -- What
More Can I Give" on Oct. 21.
On his first album in six years, the self-proclaimed
King of Pop has done just that, recording a CD that not only re-establishes
his reign as the
greatest pop artist since the early 1980s
but also introduces his music to a brand-new generation of fans.
Invincible contains 16 new songs. All but
one are written or co-written by Jackson, and six are co-produced by Darkchild
The first single off the album, the Jerkins-produced
"You Rock My World," has already received major airplay on radio, and the
video has garnered
a healthy share of requests on MTV's Total
Jackson's long hiatus was due to a combination
of things -- the birth of his two children and various legal issues being
the most popular ones.
But perhaps the best reason for his absence
from the music world was timing, and what better time for Jackson to return
then now, when pop
sensations rule the charts?
Returning with a bang has always been Jackson's
style. After all, he is the artist who recorded the most successful pop
album of all time with 1982's
Its follow-up, 1987's Bad, was the most
anticipated album of the decade.
In 1991, Jackson accompanied the release
of his fourth album, Dangerous, with the world premiere of a 13-minute
video for the single "Black or
White" that was simultaneously broadcast
on no less than five separate television stations. Finally, in 1995, the
artist released a double album
entitled HIStory, which contained a CD
of greatest hits and a separate CD of new material.
Invincible arrives at the shelves with
a little less bang, but the same anticipation. The star is now 43 years
old, and the question has been brought
forth: Can Michael Jackson adjust, and
fit in, with the music of today? No one is expecting him to re-create an
album as solid as 1978's Off The
Wall or as groundbreaking as Thriller,
but can the King of Pop hold his own alongside today's pop, hip-hop, r&b,
rock and rap?
The answer is yes.
Invincible is Jackson's greatest achievement
since Thriller. Working with producers Jerkins, Teddy Riley, R. Kelly,
Babyface and Andre Harris,
Jackson has recorded a very good album.
It's not as great as Off The Wall or as solid as Bad, but it is definitely
Jackson's best post-Quincy Jones
Jackson recorded his first three albums
with Jones, but after turning to other producers such as Riley, Glen Ballard,
and the team of Jimmy Jam and
Terry Lewis, he never really matched the
magic of Jones' touch.
Finally, the combination of Jackson's songwriting
and the production team he has chosen to include on Invincible has produced
a product that far
surpasses the work on Dangerous and HIStory.
The new album opens with a hard-hitting
pop cut called "Unbreakable." Complete with striking keyboard licks and
Jackson's signature vocals, the
track lets the listener know right away
that the phenomenon of Michael Jackson is back. There is also a sound bite
featuring the late Notorious
B.I.G. on a rap solo.
The title track is catchy and includes
Darkchild rap artist Fats. The chorus is laced with an infectious pop melody,
and the track is sure to make a
solid single off the album. Also, "Break
of Dawn," "You Rock My World" and "Butterflies" are strong tracks, containing
danceable beats, clever
harmonies and great instrumentation.
Invincible's true strength, however, lies
in three of the album's ballads. The first is "Heaven Can Wait," a sweet
love song co-written by Jackson and
produced by Riley. Featuring a sexy r&b
feel reminiscent of the work Riley has done with Jackson's sister Janet,
"Heaven Can Wait" is unlike
anything Jackson has done before.
Babyface co-writes, plays guitar and sings
background vocals on the ballad "You Are My Life." Not very lyrically impressive,
the ballad relies on
Jackson's unique style of singing, especially
near the song's end when the King of Pop takes off on his trademark ad-libs.
Finally, "Don't Walk Away," another Riley
production, is reminiscent of HIStory's "You Are Not Alone." It's a great
pop ballad and would make for a
great single off the album.
Ironically, the writer of "You Are Not
Alone," R. Kelly, makes a lackluster contribution to Invincible with the
inspirational song "Cry." The song
attempts to mimic the classic Jackson
track "Man in the Mirror," but doesn't really get to that point.
Perhaps the biggest weaknesses of Invincible,
which keep it from actually being better than Jackson's earlier material,
are its longevity and the
inclusion of unnecessary tracks.
With 16 songs, it is Jackson's longest
album -- close to 80 minutes in length. Jackson's best albums never included
more than 11 tracks. The
infamous Thriller contained only nine
songs, while Dangerous featured 14 songs and HIStory included 15 cuts on
its CD of new material.
It is more than clear that today's consumer
has a very short attention span. Furthermore, artists continue to take
advantage of the technology of the
compact disc; the industry has made it
a point to fit as much as possible onto one album.
This is what has kept today's artists from
producing the next classic album, like The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper, The Beach
Boys' Pet Sounds or even
Jackson's Thriller. Overloading an album
has proved to be too much -- more quantity, less quality. Artists like
U2, Lauryn Hill, Dave Matthews Band
and Lenny Kravitz understand this. Their
albums are short and sweet, lasting just long enough to make the listener
Invincible drags, especially with songs
like "Cry," "The Lost Children," "Whatever Happens" and "Threatened," which
are actually the last four
songs on the album. Sadly enough, Jackson's
extraneous material keeps the album from soaring as a classic record, but
with 12 solid tracks, it's the
best comeback material someone of Jackson's
stature could have come up with.
So attention all boy bands and pop starlets,
please kneel before your king. He may be the self-proclaimed King of Pop,
but Jackson sure lives up to
his own label. It's official: Michael
Jackson is back.
*** 1/2 (out of five stars)