Michael Jackson’s 'Invincible' is an underrated gem

in retrospect

I have something I need to admit — I don’t particularly like most of Michael Jackson’s music. It’s an unpopular opinion for sure, and it’s not at all an opinion based on anything other than my own personal tastes. I respect “Thriller,”  but I never listen to it for fun. I think “Billie Jean” is catchy, but I’ve never listened to that song outside of social functions. No matter how much I try, I always feel disconnected from his classics.

My personal tastes aside, Michael Jackson was a prolific artist, releasing ten studio albums throughout his career. His sixth album, “Thriller,” is the best-selling album of all time. His discography is simply legendary. One day, I was curious about the last non-posthumous album he ever released. That’s when I stumbled across his 2001 album, “Invincible.” 

At first, I was a bit shocked, because in my mind, Michael Jackson was just a twentieth-century icon, and I had no idea he released an album as recently as 2001. When I dug deeper, though, the more bewildered I grew with this album. It blends together R&B, hip-hop, soul, and pop and has a variety of guest appearances, from Biggie Smalls to Slash. I was intrigued, to say the least, even more so by the hostile critical reception it seemed to receive. “Invincible” as of today holds a 51/100 aggregate review rating on Metacritic, and received a one-star rating from Rolling Stone, criticizing the album for what it characterized as “grim calculation.” 

I’ll definitely have to disagree with Rolling Stone. Upon listening to the album myself, I encountered a wonderful, forward-thinking body of work, with plenty of catchy songs that have been trapped in my mind since. In fact, what I discovered was that my previous qualms with Michael Jackson’s music were nowhere to be found on “Invincible.” In fact, I thought that “Invincible” was one of the most ahead-of-its-time albums I’ve ever listened to. The sounds which Jackson works with are simply hypnotizing, early examples of trends that found footing long after he died. 

The mix of genres present on the album is also really neat to listen to. The album begins with “Unbreakable” featuring Biggie Smalls, with a bouncy beat that draws you in with Jackson’s ability to glide effortlessly over the instrumentals. The transition into Biggie’s verse is smooth, so smooth in fact that there’s virtually no way to tell that this verse is actually a  sample from a Shaquille O’Neal song. “Unbreakable” is a great song, yet it’s not even a highlight on the album. The second song, “Heartbreaker” is equally strong. Michael Jackson’s ability to create catchy melodies was unmatched by his contemporaries, and still today it clears many modern artists.

Other highlights include “Break of Dawn” and “Heaven Can Wait,” two very relaxed love songs that I can put on at any time, no matter my mood. The absolute standout of the album, though, is “Butterflies.” Another love song, the melody swells throughout the song as the chords build up before reaching a wonderful pinnacle at the chorus. I listened to this song not only on Spotify but also Youtube’s various “lofi slowed/reverb” remixes. “Butterflies” has worked its way up the list of my favorite R&B songs.

The album is not without flaws, though. There are a few too many songs, with the album lasting one hour and fifty-six minutes. The audio mixing on certain songs is also oddly amateurish, forcing me to turn up my headphones just to hear the vocals of the guest artists, only to turn them down again when Jackson started singing again as if Jackson and the guest artists were set on two drastically different volumes. Fortunately, it is rather easy to look past this. 

I think the biggest detriment to the album’s success at the time of its release was Jackson’s reputation. The fact of the matter is, if this album was released by an unnamed artist, the discussion surrounding this album would be not that it was “underrated,” but rather that it was a strong album. I think that this is probably the only Michael Jackson album I’ll ever love, but I know most people do not love it as much as his other albums, and that is okay. “Invincible” is a great album, and that’s all I need it to be.


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