Sound: Michael Jackson's latest, and presumably last, non-"greatest-hits" record fittingly debuted in the U.S. on the day before Halloween in 2001. The question in the mind of every critic and fan was whether or not the nearly 45 year-old performer could still moonwalk away from the controversies surrounding him and once again put on a brilliant show from the tattered throne of the "King of Pop" in the new millennium.
Unfortunately for both Jackson and his fans "Invincible" is anything but. One of Jackson's most enduring strengths has been his rhythmic ability; songs like "In the Closet," and "Smooth Criminal" are glowing examples. From this perspective, "Invincible" fairs rather well, but not srongly. Jackson has opted to create his rhythms mostly electronically, and the sound often feels mechanized, and too tightly wound. Jackson would've done better to create them (particulary the title track) using his own voice, as he has done in the past. The sound of the album is most comparable to that of his '91 album, "Dangerous." However, where "Dangerous" felt gritty, real, and organic, "Invincible" sounds cold, metallic, and glossy.
Melodically, "Invincible" is not bad. "Heartbreaker" stands as the catchiest up-tempo track, with "Break of Dawn" being the catchiest ballad. However, where Jackson would've done better to focus on embellishing and elaborating his melodies, he chose instead to lengthen the tracks, giving the listener larger helpings of the basics. Because of this, tracks eventually begin to feel like a whole lot of the same thing (i.e. the overly-long and repetitive "Unbreakable"). // 6
Lyrics: Lyrically, "Invincible" is either average or down-right tepid. After the '93 molestation allegations, Jackson's lyrics aquired a persistent self-focus that has turned at least one fan (myself) off to his music, post-Dangerous. In my opinion, "HIStory" and "Blood on the Dancefloor" are better seen as side projects Jackson made for the sake of therapy sessions rather than legitimate creations intended for public pleasure.
Jackson should've considered "Invincible" his shining chance to take both his and the public's mind off of his personal woes, and prove that it was once again "all about the music." As we all know, he didn't. "Privacy" is lyrically tepid - a sour reminder of the troll-ish image Jackson gained in the mid-late 90's. "Unbreakable" and "Threatened" are likewise lyrically hostile and bizarre. These are not songs that most people, if anybody, can relate well too.
"Lost Children" and "Speechless" simply should never have been allowed onto the album. Both songs are easily the most embarrasing and awkward of Jackson's career, complete with children's choirs and tepid effects. The children's dialogue at the end of "Lost Children" serves no purpose and is downright creepy. I know of nobody who would feel comfortable playing these songs in their car with the windows down.
The ballads are generic. "Butterflies" is lyrically odd, and could be seen either as more lyrical regression on Jackson's part, or as a refreshing escape from the "baby let's f*ck" world of modern rap and hip-hop. "Break of Dawn" is quite good, but Michael Jackson has certainly not presented himself in a manner that invites people to think or to want to think of him in a sexualized manner.
The quality of Jackson's voice is a subject I was surprised to find never discussed amid reactions to "Invincible." There is a nasal, strained, distorted quality to his voice at times that bares little resemblence to the performer who sang "Billie Jean," "Smooth Criminal," or even "Dangerous." Whether or not Jackson takes voice altering substances, or is experiencing the results of too many plastic-surgery operations near his sinus cavities, is open to debate. None the less, the quality of Jackson's voice, specifically on the album's first three tracks, is disconcerting. While Jackson remains always in tune, he often sounds uncomfortable, constricted, or stuffed up, occasionally to a degree that one might find embarrasing and unpleasant. // 4
Overall Impression: "Invincible" is not Jackson's worst album, but it is a bitter disappointment to those hoping for a revitalized, relevant return to his glory days during the 80s and early 90s.
And yet, "Invincible" is not an unfitting end to Jackson's career. Jackson has always been his own worst enemy - I don't doubt that "Invincible" was truly an attempt to achieve something great; however, Jackson's sensibilities simply are not what they used to be, clouded perhaps by bizarre obsessions and darker things.
If "Invincible" saw the return of Jackson to any golden throne, it is one that sits alone in a deserted castle, deep in a darkening valley where most feel uncomfortable to travel. And as of recently, the castle walls have been crumbling quickly, but the king still does not budge from his throne... // 6