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Mixed Results Due to MJ's Over-Reliance on Collaborators Instead of Trust in Self
on March 11, 2015
It is regrettable and maddening that INVINCIBLE did not receive the promotion it deserved upon initial release. Two songs did receive radio play - Butterflies and Break of Dawn. One song received radio play plus a video--You Rock My World. The full album remained crushed beneath negative media speculation and political power struggles between Michael Jackson and Sony. Besides the public relations battles with his record label, MJ cancelled the worldwide tour that would have otherwise supported the album following the 9/11 attacks. Continued legal struggles further smothered INVINCIBLE in 2002 along with criminal accusations in 2003. The subsequent trial in 2005 sucked away almost all remaining positive energy and momentum.
That said, those moved by nostalgia to conduct a retrospective discovery of MJ's full catalog will find themselves greatly amazed at the numerous INVINCIBLE gems minus a few duds.
INVINCIBLE is heavy on production by Rodney Jerkins. The first three songs that open the album are fast-paced Jerkins club songs that offer not much new or different from previous albums. While Unbreakable is lyrically defiant, sonically, Unbreakable, Heartbreaker, and Invincible are interchangeable and generic.
The album doesn't really pick up excitement until the fourth song, Break of Dawn, a cheery celebration of intimacy co-written and produced by Dr. Freeze that quite a few people did hear on the radio. Heaven Can Wait is the loveliest, sweetest, sexiest MJ song this side of The Lady in My Life. Produced by Riley, with strong backing vocals by Dr. Freeze and Que, it boggles the mind that this song received next to no airplay. Suddenly the file-sharing Napster craze and MJ's frustration with Sony during this time period make perfect sense.
Jerkins redeems himself with the bass-heavy You Rock My World, which as mentioned, received both radio and video promotion, along with an amusing introduction by Chris Tucker. This is MJ deep inside the classic mid-tempo R&B sweet spot. Butterflies is MJ grooving one step behind a jazzy beat with Marsha Ambrosius of Floetry. This song received radio airplay based upon the sheer strength of consumer demand that would not be denied, raising the question of why more Ambrosius songs failed to make this album.
Speechless is one of two songs on the album written soley by MJ and features smooth layers of MJ vocals between an acapella intro and outro. 2000 Watts is a song Tyrese Gibson intended for himself, but handed over to MJ with Teddy Riley as producer. Startling for MJ's growls and rare use of his lower register, the song booms and thumps shout-outs to various audio/visual technology for the club or car with Tyrese assisting on background vocals.
You Are My Life is a lovely, classic R&B slow-tempo and how could this be otherwise, since Babyface co-wrote, co-produced, provided background vocals, and played several instruments? You want high-quality R&B? You call Babyface to come take care of you.
Privacy is another MJ commentary on negative behavior by mainstream media in the vein of Leave Me Alone, Scream, and Tabloid Junkie. Much better than Unbreakable, though the raspy voice really sounds like someone making an obscene phone call, maybe that was the point.
Don't Walk Away is another Teddy Riley production that doesn't really move the album forward. However, Whatever Happens is a sexy latin/reggae groove that sounds like a breakup to makeup slow dance featuring Santana, comparable to Terrance Trent Darby's Sign Your Name. Threatened is the final effort by Jerkins, with hostile lyrics that menace the listener on an even deeper level than Thriller.
Finally, Cry is the socially-conscious anthem for which MJ is world-renown in the vein of We are the World, Heal the World, Man in the Mirror, and Earth Song. Like these songs, Cry is beautiful with a stimulating message and a choir whose soaring vocals request empathy and compassion as our brother's keepers. Written and co-produced by a man whose own media image was questionable and not helpful to MJ's own at that time, his songwriting talent still cannot be denied--R. Kelly.
INVINCIBLE somewhat sticks to the MJ formula - fast jams, slow jams, reprimands to the media, plus an anthem. Missing are lead guitar hits like Beat It, Black or White, Dirty Diana, or Give in to Me. Though IINVINCIBLE lacks balance in that Jerkins and Riley were allotted too many opportunities to drag the album back to late 80s/early 90s New Jack instead of forward to New Soul, at least nine of the album's songs reward the listener upon multiple repeats - Butterflies, Heaven Can Wait, Break of Dawn, You Rock My World, 2000 Watts, You Are My Life, Speechless, Whatever Happens, and Cry. Some of these songs definitely should have found their way onto the soundtracks of the movies that came out about that time. The album would have benefitted from more contributions from Ambrosius or Dr. Freeze, plus additional writing from one of the world's top songwriters himself, Michael Joe Jackson.