Michael Rocks

You can't classify him. You can't even understand him. The mere utterance of his name evokes a gamut of images both miserable and messianic. With the exception of, well, no one, no single artist has roused such discordant and incongruous public perceptions. To some, his life represents the American Dream: A poor boy from a working class town who channeled his immense talent into a vehicle for social commentary and upward mobility. Others identify him solely as what he has become: a scandal-plagued tabloid joke, a jaded mega-star recognizable more for his undeniable eccentricities than his exceptional musical accomplishments. This is the life of Michael Jackson.

With Invincible, Jackson faces a myriad of challenges. Popular music has morphed during Jackson's musical hiatus, and Jackson's presence has faded. Musical strength alone is not enough to render Invincible a success. Legions of people will approach Invincible with the most scornful of eyes, anxiously awaiting another platform to vent their hatred of Jackson and his "freakish" nature. Others will forgo the effortless assault of Jackson's eccentricities and instead base judgement of Invincible on comparisons with Thriller, the most successful album in the history of popular music. Although both these actions may reflect the price of success, they also abandon most notions of fairness and logic.

Music should be evaluated as music, period. Personal opinions about Jackson as a person do not change the way his music sounds when it comes through the speakers. Musically, Invincible is superior. Failure to acknowledge the musical prowess displayed on Invincible is a failure to distinguish art from the artist. Invincible is an exceptional musical accomplishment containing some of Jackson's best vocal performances to date. But, honestly, who doesn't know that Michael Jackson is an excellent singer and performer? The real question: Does anyone really care anymore?

The answer is that they should, and many probably will. Although Jackson's persona is undeniably weird, his image assuredly wounded, it takes deaf ears to deny the fact that the man has an incredibly rare gift. And while recent times have seen him become trivialized to the point that many see him as a parody of his old self, the smashing tracks of Invincible will prove that while his appearance may have taken a complete 180, his musical gift remains completely unscathed.

A first listen to Invincible is a shocking experience. With Invincible, Michael Jackson has proven that he has, by far, the best voice in popular music. Over the years Jackson's voice has increasingly progressed toward extraordinary contrasts. Ballads such as the spiritual "Speechless," passionate "Cry" and Santana blessed "Whatever Happens" are exercises of vocal dexterity literally unmatched in the contemporary music scene. Furthermore, the musical versatility displayed on this album is astounding. Hip-hop-flavored club tracks like "Unbreakable" (featuring a posthumous appearance by the Notorious B.I.G.), "Heartbreaker" and "Invincible," will hit dance floors with the ferocity of a tsunami. Rock-oriented cuts like "2000 Watts" will have your heart pounding. You end up wondering how one artist could deliver such contrasting offerings all on the same album. You also end up a bit perplexed as to how the catchy but formulaic "You Rock My World" could have been the first single off of the new disk.

Invincible, while phenomenal, is not infallible. The same versatility that acts as a tremendous asset to Invincible is also a slight flaw. In an attempt to recreate his past success, Jackson has strategically tried to appeal to everyone. And although there is indeed something for everyone on this album, it's a bit traumatic to hear a pounding rock track like "2000 Watts" after the peaceful and beautiful "Speechless." Furthermore, some of the ballads lack fresh lyrical content, merely invoking common themes of love and heartbreak. But the truth is, when music is executed so masterfully, it speaks for itself. Invincible will make you remember why Michael Jackson is Michael Jackson in the first place. And that alone says more than anything.


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