Have you ever looked at the track listing of Michael Jackson’s 1982 masterpiece Thriller? Even if you’re not a fan, even if you came along years after his heyday of world dominating popularity, even if you think you hate pop music, you’ll be surprised by how many songs on that album you know. You’ll be even more surprised by the fact that you more than likely love them all.
19 years later, Jackson was more of a curiosity than a pop star. The vast majority of news reports about the former King of Pop focused a lot more on his weirdness than they did on his musical output. Which is why I didn’t even know what his final album was called, or have a clue about when it was released until I decided to do this week of icon’s last releases. The album was Invincible, the year was 2001.
With the opening trifecta, Unbreakable, Heart Breaker and he titular Invincible, you can hear Jackson struggling to find a place for his music in the new millennium. The voice and vocal affectations are all classic Michael Jackson, but the music is stretching to sound so very 2000, with its faux big beats. Two of these songs even include awkward rap interludes from what I assume are big hip hop names of the time.
The problem with those songs are even more highlighted by Break of Dawn. While it might sound a little old fashioned, it sounds like Michael Jackson doing what Michael Jackson did best. Pop layered over R&B, with its heart on its sleeve. That heart covered sleeve gets a little too syrupy on Heaven Can Wait, but I’ll still take it over the scene chasing desperation of the first three tracks of Invincible.
But just as I’m starting to think that MJ’s biggest mistake in these later years was trying to stay modern and follow trends, I get Privacy. It’s weird, and industrial, and dirty, and experimental and like nothing else I’ve ever heard from Jackson. Even before he died, I assumed I’d never be surprised musically by Jackson ever again. But Privacy really is like no other Michael Jackson song I’ve ever heard. I don’t know if it’s good, exactly. But I do know it’s the most interesting thing on Invincible.
A song by Michael Jackson titled The Lost Children might seem creepy enough. But add to that a chorus of young kids singing about, “all of God’s children” and you have to wonder what Jackson was thinking when he not only wrote and recorded this song, but included it on what was supposed to be a big, comeback album. He was already an accused pedophile at this stage. Just totally oblivious to the world around him, or a glutton for punishment I guess.
Invincible proves that Michael Jackson was undoubtedly a musical genius, but it also shows that his time had passed. When he sticks with the 80s pop that made him the undisputed king of the genre, the songs are fine, but obviously past their time. When he tries to dive into what were then modern sounds, he’s left floundering in obviously unfamiliar waters. If you’ve never heard this album, you don’t need to. Just go back to Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad. They’re timelessly great and don’t need any Invincible taint on them.
1964 – 2009
Selected Major Achievements/Accolades:
Album of the Year (Thriller)
Record of the Year (Beat It)
Song of the Year (Beat It)
Best Rhythm and Blues Song (Billie Jean)
Guinness World Records;
Best Selling Album of All time (Thriller)
Most Successful Concert Series (Bad World Tour)
Most Successful Entertainer of All Time
Highest Paid Entertainer of All time