Michael Jackson, the self proclaimed King of Pop, wants us to know a few things on his first album in six years: He will not be beaten or broken, he is angry about his privacy being invaded by paparazzi and journalists, and he feels threatened. Nevertheless, he is also sending out good vibes to all the lost children in the world, but cannot save the world on his own. He's such a confident lover that he wants to make love 'til the break of dawn, but he has butterflies over his new love. He ponders whether he will die overnight in a love song.
These are the schizophrenic and generic ideas expressed on Invincible, the album he will release on Oct. 29. On this album Jackson is either an adolescent child dreaming about a sanitary non-sexual love, or angry superstar declaring his invulnerability. There is nothing in between. Invincible's target audience would have to be very angry 12-year-old celebrities who dream of a utopian romance.
And so is the album as I heard it. This advance version does not include two new songs, "You Are My Life," and "Whatever Happens," which will feature Carlos Santana on guitar.
The songs can be grouped into themes. Unbreakable, Heartbreaker, Invincible, Privacy and Threatened. They announce Jackson's hostility, which seems directed either at the public or the press, or both. He's certainly upset about the way he's been treated by someone, and these songs fall into that group. Sadly, both Unbreakable and Threatened begin with Thriller-like sound effects. Threatened even starts with a Rod Serling spoken intro. All of these songs, which are uptempo, seemed in the mixes I have, to be devoid of real instruments. Jackson's vocals on all of them are growlish.
Of this group, I would say Unbreakable is the best, with an infectious chorus. If the theme in the lyrics were limited to just this cut, Unbreakable would be fine. By the time you get to the third track, Invincible, you're ready for a Tylenol.
The only other uptempo song, "2000 Watts," is a very tired, noisy rock song. And the lyrics don't help. Michael wants us to put on our 3-D glasses for this adventure. Aren't 3-D glasses outdated beyond kitsch? Jackson comes across as an aging hipster or like Pat Boone singing "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Strangely, the vocals don't even sound one bit like Michael Jackson, but a little like brother Jermaine. If it is Michael's voice, it's been processed more than his hair.
"You Rock My World," which is here and has been out since August, is still the best rock number on the CD. But a closer inspection reveals a rhythm track suspiciously close to Herb Alpert's very famous 1979 instrumental hit, "Rise."
The ballads pose another problem. Where the rock songs come across as faux gritty, all the slow numbers have a golly gosh Michael in Neverland sound. "Heaven Can Wait," "Break of Dawn," and "Butterflies" are all just sentimental sops that try to advance the notion of Michael as a ladies' man. And that dog just ain't gonna hunt.
"Break of Dawn," for example, is about "making love til the break of dawn." Yikes! Jackson can record all the songs he likes with lines about 'getting the girl,' but this man who surrounds himself with kiddies and — according to his friend Shmuley Boteach, keeps life-sized mannequins of a boy and a girl in his bedroom — is not going to convince us in these weepers that he's suddenly a Player. One other ballad, "Don't Walk Away," sports a beautiful Burt Bacharach-like melody but is ruined by banal lyrics.
Things go desperately wrong in "The Lost Children." Yes, children sing the chorus and play in the background. No, Michael evidently doesn't see this as a problem. He should. Jackson seems to have no concept of the beating his persona has taken in the court of public opinion. Most Americans think of him as a man with an inappropriate interest in tykes. Doesn't he realize that we've only heard stories from Neverland about children being there in dicey situations? I guess not.
"The Lost Children" also boasts a guest appearance by Michael's son, Prince Jackson in a spoken word finale about being lost in the woods.
I will admit to being a sucker for two of the ballads, "Don't Walk Away" and "Cry." The former sounds like a Burt Bacharach number, with a lot of strings. It's perfect for Adult Contemporary radio. I loved the melody to "Cry," although the lyrics are ridiculous. Jackson actually sings the line "You can change the world/I can't do it by myself."
Invincible should have been the moment for Jackson's Sgt. Pepper or Graceland, a project that showed off an interest in healing the world through its music, not by gathering up its children for play-dates. But there is nothing dynamic about it. Jackson rejected a cut, for example, produced by Wyclef Jean, the rap cubist who could have made Invincible interesting. How about a duet with Beyonce Knowles or Left Eye Lopes? Why not reach out to Thom Yorke of Radiohead, or studio whiz Beck? The possibilities for an interesting Jackson album were there, but Michael has chosen to remain locked in a world of mirrors. And the reflection is more often grotesque than gratifying.
So the question remains: Will Invincible be a hit? Despite this lackluster collection, Europeans and Asians — less jaded than Americans about Jackson — will probably flock to it. In this country, the jury remains out. Michael is fast becoming an underdog, with some pop acts abandoning his "What More Can I Give" project and Sony clearly on the attack. Maybe that will help him win back the public. Or maybe this will be the biggest wake up call of all time.
Mariah Carey's Greatest Hits? You may think you already own it, since Sony released the No.1's album last year. But in an effort to saturate the market and drain Carey of any way to resuscitate her Glitter soundtrack, Sony is planning to release Mariah's greatest hits in December.
This will be just in time to suck the life out of any possible way to get Glitter back into sales racks since the thinking goes that fans will want the old songs first.
But Mariah has a few ideas up her sleeve. She's performing a medley of "Never Too Far Away" and "Hero" at the Radio Awards next week. She's also set to appear on Ally McBeal in January, where she'll sing "Lead the Way," the best song from Glitter.
I've got to tell you that no matter what Sony pulls, this is the record to bring Mariah back to the public. As long as Mariah makes a tasteful well thought out video, this could be a chance for her to separate the album from the disaster of the movie. Has it been done before? The Coyote Ugly soundtrack is a good example of a record that outlasted its awful movie of the same name. And now that Carey has her old promo guy, Jerry Blair, calling the shots, I smell success in the air.
The Robin Hood Foundation — which is very real, and has experience collecting large amounts of money — is picking up corporate interest in tomorrow night's Concert for New York City. Bear Stearns, Ebay, Ford Motor Company, Pepsi, Vivendi Universal, SAC Foundation, and Soundview Technology Group have all donated a million bucks apiece to the cause.
If you're in New York tomorrow — and you should be — the Fifth Annual Art Crawl is on for the afternoon. This is a charity event sponsored by the Rema Hort Mann Foundation, a group that was set up in memory of a terrific woman who died tragically at age 30 from liver cancer. The Foundation's money goes directly to helping cancer patients live with their disease. So pony up for a good cause, and get a comprehensive private tour of the Chelsea art galleries — with a party at 5 p.m. at Lot 61 nightclub. Call (212) 431-1622 for all the information.