Michael Jackson’s recording career came to a sad conclusion on October 30, 2001. He should have released it a month earlier. Then it would have been only the second worst event of the month.
Invincible wasn’t an album, it was a PR statement. “Don’t listen to what the media’s saying about me. I’m a normal guy!” By 2000 his public image was absolutely out of control, and he had only two options: turn himself into a freakshow, or tamp down the weirdness somehow.
He made the boring choice, or maybe Sony made it for him. They had a lot riding on Invincible’s succcess – its $30 million production cost was an industry record, and perhaps still is. Michael demanded still more money, and accused CEO Tommy Mottola of racism when he wouldn’t pay.
The album seeks to join the tide of millennial R&B and its formula is strict: ballads, soft strings, a few “edgy” songs containing glitched-up funk beats and rapping, guest spots by titans of morality like R Kelly, lyrics spat out by a Platitude Bot 2000, and when ideas run dry, even more ballads.
The problem with this – aside from the fact that there’s almost nothing more creepy than a man loudly insisting that he’s normal – is that it’s dull. Who wants to hear a former titan ripping off people who were probably inspired by him to begin with? The lyrics (aside from “Privacy” and the frankly horrific “The Lost Children”) are just all about love and romance, and the music just blurs into Boyz II Men (emphasis on the boys, I guess).
Sony was heavily committed but the same can’t be said for Michael, who barely seems to care. He moon-shuffles. He’s a smooth criminal whose offense is an unpaid parking ticket. He did not tour off Invincible, although deputies at the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department would have their chance to photograph him in 2003 when he was charged with seven counts of child sexual abuse.
His songwriting talent was starting to crumble in HIStory and here it’s completely gone. Sixteen bad songs. No good ones. If you want to hear awesome music like “Billie Jean”, you’re in luck – in 1982 Michael Jackson released an album called Thriller, and by sheer coincidence it has a song with that exact title. Don’t bother listening to this album, though.
The more I think about Michael Jackson the less I like him. There’s something skin-crawling about his fans: he was incredibly talented as a musician, but in the 90s this talent was eclipsed what can only be described as the formation of a cult. He is fascinating as an example of a secular religious icon. They haunt Twitter and Tiktok to this day: everything that ever went wrong for Michael – his finances, his appearance, his death – was ultimately someone else’s fault.
The Michael Jackson story (which goes beyond his shallow and forgettable final album) is ultimately one of tragedy, and of self-inflicted wounds. Did Conrad Murray kill Michael Jackson? Well, he gave him surgical anesthetic to sleep at night. But who hired Murray to do this? And what would have happened if Murray had refused? Michael would simply have fired him, and found a different doctor. The problem was Michael.
But self-destructive people can make fascinating art, and for years Michael did just that. I’d like to believe his recording career ended with HIStory. That album, like the one before, were a paranoid, sweaty jumble of blame-laying and resentment. Disturbing though it was, it made for compelling listening. You felt you were getting ringside seats for a man’s breakdown, and at least you got a few good songs, too: “Scream” and “Stranger in Moscow” kick the shit out of everything on this album. There’s a class of words in English better known by their opposites (gruntled, hinged, domitable, and so on). Michael Jackson’s last album is very vincible indeed.