In December 2000, an article appeared on MTV’s website which stated: “After years of painstaking recording sessions, Michael Jackson is nearly ready to unleash a raw, energetic new sound on his first album of original material in a decade…”

One hopes the fans and Jackson’s musical collaborators pointed out the error in that statement.  In less than a decade before the MTV article was published, Dangerous (all new material) was released, and HIStory: Past, Present and Future Book 1 contained an entire disc of new material (HIStory Continues: 15 tracks).

But, to return to December 2000, the album of “raw, energetic new sound” referred to in the MTV article was to be Invincible, which was eventually released at the end of October 2001.  It was said to have cost $30,000,000 to make and took a long time to complete to Jackson’s high standards. [1]

But when Michael Jackson delivered, he really delivered.  It was a bumper album, containing 16 tracks (which some critics complained was too many – one even suggesting that the album ran out of steam half way through). [2]

Producer Rodney Jerkins told Vibe magazine in 2009 that “It was Michael’s idea.  It was long.  He didn’t make that transition of doing shorter albums…” [3]

Personally, I think there’s a lot to be said in favour of giving the record-buying fans value for their money (in both quality and quantity) – and Michael Jackson always looked out for his fans.

When it comes to the critical reaction to Invincible subsequent to its release, the question should be asked of the critics if it was the music, or was it Michael Jackson they were dismissing?  Academic author Elizabeth Amisu sees Invincible as being “undoubtedly ‘explosive’, ‘intoxicating’ and an example of a black man selling ‘black music’ to a predominantly white (Western) world.” [4]

This would be understandable, though never acceptable, if today’s professional reviewers weren’t still basing their comments on the same lurid misconceptions about the artist as did their predecessors back in 2001.  As recently as 2017, the posthumously released Scream compilation saw some critics continue to find it impossible to discuss the art without judging the artist, not because of his ethnicity or anything other than because he was Michael Jackson. [5]

Personally, I believe that, as with all his adult work, Jackson’s aim with Invincible (which boasts tracks ranging from industrial funk to jazz and Latin influences, plus rock and heartfelt ballads) was to transcend the constraints of any particular culture and genre while never denying his own.  He was always intent on pushing the boundaries of his art – whether musically or with his short films.  Thus, we have tracks like “Unbreakable” sharing album space with “The Lost Children”.

The caustic reaction of his critics aside, Jackson still managed a level of success with Invincible that most other artists only dream of.  With its truncated promotional campaign, and only two music videos (only one of which features the artist himself) Invincible still went straight to No. 1 on the Billboard album chart in its first week of release in the US.  It also made the No. 1 spot in the UK.  It achieved gold certification from the RIAA (500,000 units) in December 2001, then platinum (1,000,000 units) later that same month.  A month later those figures had doubled, earning Jackson another platinum award for the album.

Being released in the wake of 9/11, Invincible arrived in a world suffering the aftershocks off the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.  Nothing was ever going to be as it had been, not even in the music industry.  Budgets were being reigned in, and Michael needed big budgets to realize his ambitions for an album that had already cost an unprecedented amount to make and the short films he envisaged to accompany the singles from the album.

For Michael Jackson, having his artistic visions limited by an insufficient allocation of funds would have meant a major compromise in the quality of the work.  Imagine telling Van Gogh he couldn’t use so much paint in his paintings because his brother Theo (who financially supported him) refused to spend so much money on supplies?

By this stage events had already transpired that led to Jackson having a major falling out with his record company.  Michael had planned not to still be tied to Sony Music for Invincible.  As Zack O’Malley Greenburg explains, “Back when he signed his first solo contract with Sony’s predecessor, CBS, [John] Branca had insisted that the agreement be governed by California law, which would allow Jackson to terminate it after seven years if he saw fit.” [6]

However, according to Greenburg, one of Branca’s successors had reworked the contract, adding additional albums and including massive penalties “as much as $20 million for each album he didn’t complete – which effectively nullified the benefits of the California law clause.” [7]

Jackson’s very public dispute with Sony and label executive, Tommy Mottola, impacted more than Michael’s record sales.  His  nephews, Taj, TJ and Taryll Jackson, who recorded under the name 3T, were also with Sony, having been signed on the strength of their uncle’s backing of their careers (and his participation on two of their recordings, the most notable being the hit single “Why”).  The trio had recorded over 20 songs for a follow-up to their original album (Brotherhood, 1995).  This “lost album” was never released. [8]

The label also declined to release Jackson’s all-star cast charity recording “What More Can I Give” to aid the families of victims of the 9/11 attacks. [9]

Rodney Jerkins told Vibe magazine in 2009 that he thought Invincible needed to be re-released.  “Because something happened at the record company that caused them not to promote it no more after we done put our heart and soul in it.  He had about five singles on the album.  But it came down to who can stop who.  And he was caught up in that mess.”

In the same interview, Jerkins also revealed that his sessions with Jackson had been videotaped for posterity.  “I’ll just say Michael asked me to document everything.  And I did.  And I’m sure one day it’ll see the light of day.  I got to make sure it’s made in the way Michael would want to see it.” [10]

Today Invincible is one of those albums beloved by many fans and not just because it was Jackson’s last studio release in his lifetime.  While boasting only a couple of his solo compositions, the album is exceptional for material that displays Jackson’s broad range of vocal capabilities.  Contrast “2000 Watts” with “Butterflies” for example.  My favourites, though, are “Whatever Happens” (which should have been a single, I think) “Break of Dawn”, “Cry” and the superlative “Speechless”.

That still leaves a host of other great tracks, like “Threatened” (which made a great mashup with “Is It Scary” as a prelude to the “Thriller” segment on Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson the Immortal World Tour” show and its soundtrack CD).  “Don’t Walk Away” and “Unbreakable” also make my list, and plenty of readers will nominate others.  There’s also the track that didn’t make the final cut – “Shout” an assault on the senses that was released as the B side to the “Cry” single. [11]

Of course, all such lists of “favourite tracks” are subject to change from hearing to hearing.  And that’s as it should be; music, and our tastes in music, should always remain flexible.

In summing up Invincible, we need only remind ourselves (and the critics) that good music transcends genres, outlives the period in which it was created, and survives to remind us, years later, of the artistic genius who created it.

I believe Invincible qualifies on all those levels.

“You can try to stop me, but it won’t do a thing
No matter what you do, I’m still gonna be here
Through all your lies and silly games
I still remain the same, I’m unbreakable” [12]

Kerry Hennigan
October 2018

Sources:

[1]  Zuel, Bernard “Falling Star” in the Sydney Morning Herald, Nov 20, 2003 https://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/11/19/1069027185212.html

[2]  Erlewine, Stephen Thomas “Michael Jackson. Invincible” https://www.allmusic.com/album/invincible-mw0000011263

[3]  Hall, Jermaine “Rodney Jerkins Talks MJ’s Last Studio Album, Invincible” in Vibe magazine September 5, 2009  https://www.vibe.com/2009/09/v-exclusive-rodney-jerkins-talks-mjs-last-studio-album-invincible/

[4]  Amisu, Elizabeth “’Crack Music’: Michael Jackson’s ‘Invincible’” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/httpjournal-culturalstudies-karinmerx-comarticlecrack-music-michael-jacksons-invincible-dangerous-philosophies-412/

[5]  Hennigan, Kerry ‘“Don’t it make you want to scream” – Commentary on a review of Michael Jackson’s compilation album “Scream”’ https://wordpress.com/post/kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/1743

[6]  Greenburg, Zack O’Malley Michael Jackson, Inc, Atria Books, 2014

[7]  Ibid.

[8]  3t.com “The Lost Album” http://www.3t.com/music/albums/76-the-lost-album

[9]  “Jackson completes charity single” BBC News October 28, 2001 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/1624586.stm

[10]  Hall, Jermaine “Rodney Jerkins Talks MJ’s Last Studio Album, Invincible”

[11]  “Shout” Michael Jackson, fan-made video for the song released as the B-side to “Cry” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNTgVYydRRg

[12]  “Unbreakable” [excerpt] by Nichol, Eugene, Mcintosh, Robert Smith, Nora Payne, LaShawn Daniels, Fred Jerkins III, Rodney Jerkins & Michael Jackson, released 2001 on Michael Jackson’s Invincible album.

 

 

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