It's no `Thriller,' but what is?

Review: `Invincible' doesn't live up to its title, but the King of Pop got his name for a reason.

November 02, 2001|By Roger Catlin | Roger Catlin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Michael Jackson - Invincible is one of those album titles, like Spice Girls Forever, that tend to precede complete career oblivion.

Nothing Michael Jackson does will ever measure up to his record-setting 1982 Thriller, so each follow-up can be measured only by degrees of disappointment.

With the reputation he still carries, however, Jackson is able to command a huge group of willing producers, writers and artists, including, this time around: Teddy Riley, Carlos Santana, Babyface, Brandy and R. Kelly. The assembled forces succeed in giving Invincible its moments of pleasure, even if it never approaches his best work.

How long has Jackson been working on Invincible? Well, opening tune "Unbreakable" features a rap by the Notorious B.I.G., who died in 1997.

Technology and electronic trends have changed so much in the past few years that Jackson likely had to go into the studio repeatedly to update. The album starts with three such songs, almost identical in structure - "Unbreakable," "Heartbreaker" and "Invincible" - which throw in his usual guttural grab bag of vocal ticks and trademarks to let you know Michael is back.

Jackson returns to the sound late on the album in the anti-press "Privacy," a rewrite of similar screeds of the past. He's best when he's kicking it mid-tempo, on songs like "Break of Dawn" or "You Rock My World."

Either reflecting his age (43) or his elderly set of pals (Elizabeth Taylor is No. 6 on his thank-you list), there seem to be more ballads than ever. "Speechless" leans toward neo-gospel and begins and ends a cappella. On "Heaven Can Wait," he says he'd rather stay on Earth as a ghost than leave his girl. The R. Kelly-penned "Cry" serves as "Heal the World" redux.

Throughout, as odd a duck as Jackson may be, he still sounds more authentic than the legions of teen pop stars he influenced.

The best parts of Invincible remain the echoes of the past, from the save-the-kids "All the Lost Children" to the "Thriller" update "Threatened," with Rod Serling filling in as celebrity voice instead of Vincent Price. It turns out to be one of the most intriguing tracks, though, as the recorded voice of Serling is twisted into a convincing rap - the audio version of an effects-laden Jackson video.

Roger Catlin is a music critic for the Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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