Abstract: Michael Jackson’s album Invincible celebrated the twentieth anniversary of its release in October 2021. It remains the album least appreciated by critics and even some of Jackson’s fans and is the album from his canon most likely to cause heated debate in online forums. In this month’s MJ Studies Today column, Kerry Hennigan discusses Invincible in relation to an essay by Ayo Adene titled “Michael Jackson’s Invincible: Deep Dive.”
Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the monthly newsletter, A Candle for Michael, administrator of the widely-subscribed Facebook group “Michael Jackson’s Short Film ‘Ghosts’” and MJ blogger. Student of Ancient History, Archaeology and Anthropology.
Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today LXXIV: Revisiting Michael Jackson’s ‘Invincible’ after twenty years through Ayo Adene’s ‘Deep Dive.’” (14-2-2022). The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 8, No. 3 (2022). https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-lxxiv/
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Revisiting Michael Jackson’s “Invincible” after twenty years through Ayo Adene’s “Deep Dive.” By Kerry Hennigan.
Music critics who would have preferred Michael Jackson stuck to the formula of his early solo Epic albums should have been pleased with his 2001 release, Invincible. Producer Rodney Jerkins had aimed to get Jackson back to the kind of eclectic mix that made Off the Wall such a success (which meant, sadly, less material authored by Jackson, and more by a variety of writers, albeit with Michael’s input). However, the album was largely met with critical disappointment; a metaphorical “Ho, hum, we’ve heard it all before.”
Only, of course, they hadn’t – Jackson had never done anything like “Butterflies” or “2000 Watts,” to nominate two strikingly different vocal treatments on the album. But the critics’ reaction does highlight the largely negative media views of Jackson at the time of Invincible’s release. “Some thought the artist had simply lost his audience,” writes Joseph Vogel, “and that the record’s commercial performance had more to do with his declining reputation than the music itself.”
At lot of it also had to do with the revolutionary changes taking place in a music industry in the process of transformation by the internet and music streaming. Nevertheless, in defiance of largely critical disinterest, Invincible “managed to sell six million copies in three months, making it one of the best album-launches of the star’s career, despite a much-reduced promotional campaign compared to his previous album.”
Ayo Adene’s essay Michael Jackson’s Invincible: Deep Dive pays due respect to the artist and the material he chose for his first album of the 21st century. Adene describes the formula for Invincible as “pop science” which combined Off the Wall’s funky balladeer and Thriller’s daredevil with the “rebel & maverick” of Bad and Dangerous, and finally the storyteller from HIStory (and Blood on the Dance Floor, I would add.). Says Adene, “together, you get the complexly layered, Mature Michael.”
It was obvious that Mature Michael’s vocal skills were as good as ever, according to producer Rodney Jerkins, and on the Invincible tracks they are given ample opportunity for expression. At opposite ends of Jackson’s vocal spectrum are the aforementioned “Butterflies” and “2000 Watts” respectively. “’Butterflies’ is genius work,” Adene writes. “Nobody could have seen this coming. Directionally, it’s a musical first even for Michael Jackson.” But it’s “2000 Watts” that Adene saves to conclude his breakdown of the album’s tracks. Suggesting that if Invincible was a bodybuilder, “’2000 Watts’ would be his chest muscles. If the album were a corporation, ‘2000 Watts’ would be its CEO. If Invincible is a supernova, ‘2000 Watts’ is its new universe.”
It all has to do with that “force” Michael extolled us to “keep on with” back in 1979’s “Don’t Stop ‘Till You Get Enough.” In the lyrics to that song, he struggles to explain what the force makes him feel like – because perhaps we weren’t ready for it, Adene postulates. But, in 2001, it came crashing through on “2000 Watts.” (Anyone who has experienced the track blasting over the sound system of a friend’s hot set of wheels probably knows that feeling. It seems like the engine isn’t the only thing propelling you down the freeway!) “Perhaps all the signs we needed to foresee Michael Jackson’s sonic revival are there, in ‘2000 Watts,’” Adene suggests.
Looking forward to a possible anniversary re-issue of Invincible, Adene names tracks recorded around the time of the album that could be included, one of them being “Shout.” This track was actually included on the “Cry” CD single along with “Streetwalker” (from the Bad recording sessions) but it sadly remains a rarity in terms of public familiarity.  Ideas for an anniversary reissue of Invincible in Adene’s essay also include possible short film treatments, which, given the technology of today, are certainly achievable.
If listeners aren’t too sure about the direction of Invincible, that is probably an accurate reflection of its complexity, Adene writes. “For all the high art that is Michael Jackson,” he writes, “perhaps nothing in all of pop music is more hard science, than the force. And it’s the same science that powers his expansion, past, present and future, from Off the Wall till Invincible, and beyond.”
Back in 2014, academic author Elizabeth Amisu wrote that Invincible, “though still largely relegated to a ‘lesser work’, far surpasses much of what was released in the same decade, yet alone the same year.” Now, in 2022, the album’s twentieth anniversary having recently been celebrated (30 October 2021) greater appreciation of Jackson’s final masterpiece issued in his lifetime is long overdue. 
Ayo Adene is a writer and a doctor whose essays have been published in ZAM magazine in the Netherlands, The Guardian in Nigeria, and Sahara Reporters in the US.
“Michael Jackson’s Invincible: Deep Dive” copyright © Ayo Adene 2021 is available in digital format free of charge through Apple Books.
 Vogel, Joseph. Man in the Music. Vintage paperback edition. 2019 p.352.
 Lecocq, Richard and Allard, Francois. Michael Jackson All the Songs. Cassell Illustrated. 2018 p. 526
 Adene, Ayo. Michael Jackson’s Invincible: Deep Dive. Apple Books 2021
 Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XXXVII. ‘All this makes me wanna Shout.’ (14-01-2019).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 5, no. 3 (2019). https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xxxvii/.
 Hennigan, Kerry. “What about “Invincible”? Revisiting Michael Jackson’s final studio album.” Published on WordPress 30 Oct 2018. https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2018/10/30/what-about-invincible-revisiting-michael-jacksons-final-studio-album/
 Amisu, Elizabeth. “‘Crack Music’: Michael Jackson’s ‘Invincible’.” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies1, No. 2 (2015). Published electronically 24/10/14. https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/elizabeth-amisu-crack-music-michael-jacksons-invincible/. Originally published in Writing Eliza(2014). 23/10/14. http://elizabethamisu.com/2014/10/23/crack-music-michael-jacksons-invincible-2/
Illustration: Designed by Kerry Hennigan, using photograph © Albert Watson from his Michael Jackson, New York City, 1999, Mirror Series. No copyright infringement is intended in this not for profit, educational exercise.