If you bought into the hype spewed by the mainstream press and Michael Jackson’s detractors, 2001’s “Invincible” was a flop of colossal proportions. Of course it was no “Thriller” or “Off The Wall”, but it stands as a fairly contemporary, often good, and occasionally awesome album from the King of Pop. Was it a sales bust? Considering only about 20 or so albums a year sell over 2 million copies (with only one so far in 2008), and this one broke that barrier, I would say no.
After the debacle that was 1995’s “HIStory”, Michael retreated back to the lab to create an album that would focus less on his personal problems and more on just making good music. In the six years between the two albums, he had also seen the entire teen-pop industry build back up on a sound he created. From Sisqo to Usher to Beyonce to Britney to Backstreet & *Nsync…damn near every pop or soul artist coming up owed a big debt to Mike…a trend that’s grown even more prevalent in the seven years since this album’s release.
The first thing you notice is that Michael the balladeer is back. The man hadn’t whipped out a slow jam since “Bad”‘s “Liberian Girl” in ’87, but “Invincible” finds him bringing sexy back about 5 years before Justin Timberlake. “Break Of Dawn” is a summery song that finds The King Of Lotharios promising to “make sweet love till the break of dawn”. Get the visual out of your head and concentrate on the song’s sweet melody, the calming background arrangement and the effervescent chorus. “Butterflies” is more of the same. Over a thumping groove from neo-soul producers Dre & Vidal, Mike testifies about a girl who makes him ridiculously nervous. This song wouldn’t sound out of place on “Off The Wall”, with it’s deep bottom, airy harmonies, and Michael singing in a casual cadence that’s ever-so-slightly behind the beat. It’s easily Michael’s best performance in years. His vocal is exquisite, especially when he slips into a mind-melting falsetto in the second verse…a vocal even more impressive when you realize the man doesn’t have a nose to sing through.
“2000 Watts” finds Michael jumping straight into the space age with an energetically jumpy production. The lyrics make no sense, but the high-energy arrangement makes you dance, and Michael brings out his deepest vocal tones for this song. First single “You Rock My World” is sunny and pleasant enough, although it sounds like a watered down version of “Remember The Time” (which, in itself was a watered down “Rock With You”). Nevertheless, the song’s got an addictive chorus and reasonably uncluttered production, not something you’d necessarily associate with the track’s producer, Rodney Jerkins.
“Invincible”s crowning achievement is “Whatever Happens”. For once, Michael stops singing about being persecuted and concentrates on the story of a man and woman’s unconditional love in the face of great odds. This song would have been an inspired choice for a single and could’ve made an awesome video. Its got a slow motion, cinematic feel, Mike’s vocal performance is top-notch, and Carlos Santana pops aboard to add a blistering guitar solo. Classic stuff here.
On the poppier side of things, “Don’t Walk Away” is a stunningly heartbreaking ballad that The Backstreet Boys would still salivate in their sleep for. It’s by far the best of the easy-listening type things on the album. “You Are My Life” is a goopy ballad which put the final nail in the coffin of the songwriting career of the once-reliable Babyface. Meanwhile, R. Kelly pops in for the world-peace anthem “Cry”, which just sounds like an inferior version of the not-that-good-to-begin-wit “I Believe I Can Fly”.
“The Lost Children” is unlistenable. Even before the trial, this song was unlistenable. It’s like Michael got kidnapped by Raffi and decided to make a song either about runaway kids or a loosely metaphorical song about folks who have had lost childhoods. Either way, the song is easily one of the 5 worst things he has recorded in his adult life.
All told, “Invincible” is not the piece of shit most claim it to be. A leaner structure to the album and some more sympathetic production would have resulted in a classic. However, when placed against what passes for pop/R&B these days, “Invincible” holds up better than a lot of the junk on radio waves now.