It's been more than a month since the terrorist tragedies of Sept. 11, but the day's events continue to have ramifications ranging from the obvious to the unexpected. Take, for example, "Invincible," the new Michael Jackson album, which will be released Tuesday.
The title always rang false in light of the pop star's declining sales, legal troubles and image problems. But, at least, seven weeks ago we still believed in the concept of indestructibility, that certain things like landmark buildings and our national defenses were untouchable. Now, however, in light of recent events, Jackson's title seems even more shallow.
And that's not the only burden weighing down the new project. Not only is Jackson still the biggest selling solo artist of all time, but he also spent more than three years making the album at a cost of a reported $30 million. That kind of cash should be able to buy some songs that would completely change the game. Instead "Invincible" simply finds Jackson playing his same old hand.
The album is nothing if not predictable. Many tracks have the same herky jerky, new jack swing beats of '91s "Dangerous" album, a style which his lil' sis Janet wisely abandoned after '89's "Rhythm Nation." But Jackson fruitlessly holds the torch for this dated sound on a number of songs, including the title track; "Heartbreaker"; "2000 Watts"; the angry open letter to the press, "Privacy"; "Threatened," which features the voice of "Twilight Zone's" Rod Sterling and the opener "Unbreakable," which includes a posthumous rap from the Notorious B.I.G.
The only time Jackson successfully revisits his past is on "Speechless," a ballad that recalls his No. 1 hit "You Are Not Alone." This tune, which sounds as if it's written and produced by R. Kelly although Jackson's label wouldn't confirm this by press time, starts with Jackson crooning a capella and then slowly builds to a climax with the singer being backed by a powerful gospel choir.
Another winning tune on the album is the dreamy "Butterflies," which flows along at a groovy midtempo pace. The track comes off as Jackson's excursion into the neo-soul territory of acts like D'Angelo and Jill Scott, and it's a far better and more mature showcase for the 43-year-old than the stale hip hop beats that otherwise dominate the album.
Indeed some may want to sidestep this derivative new Jackson album altogether and instead check out three of his classic albums - "Off the Wall," "Thriller" and "Bad" - which have just been re-released with bonus tracks, including demos, previously unreleased outtakes and producer Quincy Jones discussing the making of each project.
The expanded "Thriller" album features Jackson's original home studio demo of "Billie Jean," trying to come up with lyrics on the spot.
On the demos of "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and "Workin' Day and Night," heard on "Off The Wall," you can hear Jackson in the studio joking with brother Randy and sister Janet, who bang on cow bells and glass bottles to add percussion to the tracks. These recordings are so interesting because they show Jackson as an artist as work, making mistakes, taking chances through trial and error. They're endearing precisely because they don't make Jackson seem invincible, but human like the rest of us.