Home Read Classic Album Review: Michael Jackson | Invincible

Classic Album Review: Michael Jackson | Invincible

The troubled star's ambitious but flawed comeback disc doesn't live up to its title.

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This came out in 2001 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):

 


The good news about Invincible? It isn’t bad. The bad news about Invincible? It isn’t Bad.

It also isn’t Thriller, Off the Wall, or any other classic moment from Jackson’s career. More importantly, it’s not the earth-shattering, world-dominating, critic-silencing, image-rebuilding, money-spinning comeback album he undoubtedly hopes this arrogantly named album will be.

Not that you can blame him for hoping. Hell, if I had spent as much as Jackson did on Invincible — his first album of new material since 1995’s equally mistitled History: Past, Present and Future, Book 1 — I’d be praying for a grand slam too. The 77-minute disc is reportedly the most expensive album ever recorded. Which is, in a nutshell, the disc’s biggest asset — and, simultaneously, its biggest failing.

On the plus side, Invincible sounds technically impressive, especially on a good stereo at high volume. Jackson’s notorious perfectionism, coupled with the input of hip-hop frontrunners like Rodney Jerkins, Babyface and Teddy Riley, has produced a slate of sonically pristine, perfectly sculpted grooves. The low-end basslines and kick drums are deep, dark and solid as concrete. The high-end frequencies of the snares, cymbals and synths are sharp enough to cut glass. (There are probably frequencies on this disc only Bubbles can hear.) Meanwhile, every note played, every finger snapped, every syllable of Mikey’s vocals is exquisitely groomed, fully landscaped and perfectly balanced.

And, unfortunately, totally antiseptic. For all its soulful melodies, funky basslines and bouncing beats, Invincible is remarkably sterile. The downside of Jackson’s sonic obsessiveness and technological reliance is that these songs don’t feel like music played by humans. Rather, they come off as the programmed work of polished-steel robots, with each tone and beat sealed in its own germ-free bubble (or, perhaps, hyperbaric chamber). And because the album is ballad-heavy, too many of the arrangements are, not surprisingly, grandiose and overblown, proof that too much studio time and too much money can lead to too much unnecessary fiddling.

If it were just the arrangements that were overblown, mind you, that would be forgivable. But it’s tougher to turn the other cheek to Jackson’s own lyrics and performance. Being the larger-than-life diva he is, he seems capable of only grandiose gestures and overwrought emotions. But being the surgery-altered freakazoid that he is, none of those emotions are even remotely believable. If there’s anything more ridiculous than Jackson defiantly shaking his little girly fist and trying to act tough in slamming tunes like Unbreakable (“With all that I’ve been through, I’m still around”) and Privacy (“Paparazzi, get away from me”), it’s the thought of him crooning syrupy love ballads like You Are My World and Break of Dawn. (When Mikey starts singing about “Making sweet love till the break of dawn,” he just sounds like South Park’s Chef on helium.) And I don’t even want to talk about the creepy runaway ballad The Lost Children. You’d think if Jackson really wanted to rebuild his image, he’d learn when to leave well enough alone.

In fact, Jackson’s inability to shut his trap is one of Invincible’s other annoyances. Over the years, his singing style has become so hyperactive it’s turned into little more than a collection of nervous tics: The hiccupping, the stuttering, the vibrating, the whoo-hooing, the shrieking, the whatever-you-call-that-breathy-little-noise-he-makes-between-every-line-of-lyrics. We know it’s his sound; the problem is, that sound has become so ingrained in our collective consciousness — and spoofed by so many comedians — that hearing Jackson do it just sounds like self-parody.

Then again, I wouldn’t be the first to say that Jackson has been a self-parody for years. This technically skilled but personally flawed disc probably isn’t going to change anybody’s mind.