On 1997's Blood on the Dancefloor, Michael Jackson attempted to compensate for the paucity of fresh material by stuffing the five new tracks with more bile, invective and rancour than most artists unload in a lifetime, unless their name is Lydon or Reed.
This time round, the material is all ostensibly "new", though you could be forgiven for imagining you'd heard it before, so generic are the performances, with their brittle, methinks-he-doth-protest-too-much tough-guy-funk settings and a lyrical tone vacillating between dubious claims of affection and arousal and a rather more authentic-sounding undercurrent of paranoid resentment. Not an awful lot, really, for the $21m it allegedly cost to produce. Perhaps not all the songs are as fresh as one imagines; after all, the opening track, "Unbreakable", features a rap by the Notorious BIG, who's been pushing up the daisies for a few years now – since before Blood on the Dancefloor, in fact.
Not that cutting-edge contemporaneity has ever been Jackson's forte: Invincible demonstrates once again his uncanny ability to latch on to an R&B style several years after its assimilation into the mainstream, as he did a decade ago with Teddy Riley's swingbeat rhythms on Dangerous. Here, it's the limber funk twitch of Rodney Jerkins, who co-produced six of the 16 tracks, a mere three years after Whitney Houston employed him in a similar capacity; at this rate, Michael should be getting around to using Timbaland and the Neptunes some time toward the end of the decade. Riley, meanwhile, is retained for a further four tracks, with the likes of Andre Harris, Dr Freeze, R Kelly and Babyface chipping in one cut apiece, the last's "You Are My Life" being the equivalent of the dreary ballad that spoils a Stevie Wonder album.
Carlos Santana puts in an appearance on the slinky Latin-funk ballad "Whatever Happens", and a heavy-metal guitarist (possibly Slash) adds his twopenn'orth to "Privacy", yet another example of a celebrity utterly dependent on the oxygen of publicity, complaining about invasive fans. It's almost as contemptible as "The Lost Children", another ghastly never-never-land anthem about the plight of the liddle kiddies, which leaves unanswered the question of whom exactly the children may need protection from. By far the best track here is the single "You Rock My World", preceded by a bit of shameless banter between Jackson and the comedian Chris Tucker that seems designed (one hopes) as a cartoon-negro pastiche – and indeed, the scary falsetto Michael employs on "Butterflies" suggests he's missed his obvious vocation as a cartoon character, though doubtless that, too, can be cosmetically arranged.
The final word goes to Rod Serling, the Twilight Zone narrator, who pops up at the end of "Threatened", the latest instalment of Jackson's tedious horror-flick obsession, to explain: "What you've just witnessed could be the end of a particularly terrifying nightmare. It isn't. It's just the beginning."
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