Invincible

For such a boldly titled and apparently driven attempt to reinstate Michael Jackson at the center of the pop world, Invincible is a listless thing. Split between scratchy funk workouts and midtempo ballads that might have appeared as Bad B-sides, the album plays on and on while never seriously promoting dancing or romancing. Its handful of weird moments–the resurrection-by-tape of Biggie Smalls on the bridge of the title track, for instance–are hardly large-scale bizarre like the first disc of HIStory. The title track turns out to be hardly the rampant egofest you'd imagine; instead, its subject is a female whom Jackson cheers on. Likewise, the most ear-catching moments of the "comeback" single "You Rock My World" come with Chris Tucker's jivey introduction. Despite a debt to "Payback"-era James Brown, "Rock" floats away like steam midway through. It's almost a relief when the old self-regard turns up: on the growling "Privacy," Jackson rants about muckrakers "stalking" him in search of "the stories you need to bury me," all this long after foundering divas and troubled boy-group members have replaced him on tabloid covers. The man may occasionally break away from the mirror but seems unsure where else to find inspiration. –Rickey Wright