[HOT TRACK]Michael's Back, and Not Bad

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[HOT TRACK]Michael's Back, and Not Bad

This is the journey of a rock star: He reels off several hits and sparkles like only a rock star can. Then he fades into obscurity until a cable music channel like VH1 features him in some "Where Are They Now?" show.

And then there are stars like Michael Jackson who confound such formulas.

In the course of making more than 20 albums, Jackson has been an adorable child star, a legendary dancer, an alleged child abuser, a husband to Lisa Marie Presley and a father of two children by a subsequent marriage to Debbie Rowe. But most of all, he has been an amazing performer. His new album, "Invincible," mirrors that long and convoluted journey.

"I've searched for the perfect love all my life," the lover sings in "You Rock My World." "You keep on stalking me, invading my privacy, won't you just let me be," the angry star growls in "Privacy." "This one's for all the lost children, wishing them well, wishing them well," the father prays in "The Lost Children."

It has been years since Jackson has broken any new musical ground. But with the deep-pocket backing and publicity provided by Sony - and no shortage of scandals - Jackson never strays far from the public eye. Some critics are describing the new album, in which Jackson tries some new styles, as Jackon's best since "Thriller!" and others are calling it a huge disaster.

Among the 16 tracks some are definite duds, but interspersed are songs that have you bopping up and down saying, "Yes. The king of pop is back."

"Unbreakable" opens the album with a pulsing hip-hop beat. It features, of all surprises, a sample of the late rapper Notorious B.I.G.

The groove continues with "Heartbreaker," complete with Jackson's signature well-timed ahs. Then he slows things down with "Break of Dawn," a typical Michael love song.

Another love song, "You Are My Life," sounds like a weak rip-off of "We Are the World." How's this for sap: "You are my daytime, my nighttime, my world." Please.

But wait a while and you'll find "2,000 Watts" powerful enough to light up any CD player. "Speechless" and "Don't Walk Away" are gems. And yes, that is Carlos Santana on guitar for "Whatever Happens."

But then the album ends on a strange note. "You're fearing me, 'cuz you know I'm a beast," he growls in "Threatened." Famous last words.

by Joe Yong-hee

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