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Monday, 15 October, 2001, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
Make or break for Michael Jackson
Performances have been intended to win younger fans
Jackson must win over younger fans
Michael Jackson's new album, Invincible, is released at the end of October and is being seen by some as the most crucial release of his career.

Invincible could go a long way to re-establishing Michael Jackson as one of modern music's greatest ever stars - and granting him the respect and success he obviously wants and thinks he deserves.

But if the album does not live up to the high expectations, public opinion could tip the balance the other way and send his reputation and his crown as King of Pop tumbling.

If considered a flop, a new generation will look at Jackson as a man who has fallen from grace and lost his popular songwriting touch as well as his grounding in reality.

He could forever be a figure of ridicule rather than a serious musician.

Jackson was at the height of his fame in the 1980s
Jackson was at the height of his fame in the 1980s
The commentators who have attached the words "make or break" to Invincible's release have not been far wide of the mark.

The making of Invincible ate up a reported $30m (21m), making it the most expensive release ever, with the final 16 tracks picked from a total of 60 that were written.

It is the first full album of new material since 1991's Dangerous - since when most talk has been scandal and gossip about his personal life rather than news of musical success.

There is now a generation of music fans who only know him for his eccentric, reclusive behaviour, and were not even alive when Jackson's landmark 1982 Thriller album was released.

That was a point from which his title as the King of Pop stemmed, and which helped create the almost mythical, spellbinding reputation that carried him through the 1980s and part of the 1990s.

'Freak'

Thriller has sold up to 50 million copies - according to some estimates - a feat that neither he nor anybody else achieved before or since.

But with each of his albums that has followed, he has become seen as less of a musical force and more of a freak.

Every eccentric act or damaging rumour has tarnished his name - and there has been a long list.

The Thriller album sold up to 50 million copies
The Thriller album sold up to 50 million copies
The most notorious was 1993's child abuse allegations, in which Jackson paid 13-year-old Jordie Chandler a reported $20m (14m) in order to stop the case going to court.

His marriages to Lisa Marie Presley and nurse Debbie Rowe - who is also the mother of his two children, Prince and Paris - raised eyebrows, as did his unconventional friendships with Macauley Culkin and Elizabeth Taylor.

That is on top of the rumours of goings-on at Neverland, the chimps, the llamas, the skin defect, the plastic surgery, the attempts to save the children of the world and the grand, rambling concerts that celebrated his 30 years as a solo artist.

It has now been so long since he produced an important work that if he does not pull something remarkable out of the bag, young fans will not take him seriously and others will write him off.

'Amazing'

To help pull himself back into the popular ground, Jackson has taken a leaf out of Madonna's book and enlisted one of the hottest new producers to make his sound relevant to the cutting edge.

Rodney Jerkins, 24, has worked with Jennifer Lopez, Destiny's Child and Will Smith - and has described Invincible as "amazing".

"Non-Michael Jackson fans will love this record," he has promised.

Some critics agree. "It's his best work since Bad," said NME critic Peter Robinson while Musicweek magazine editor Ajax Scott decided "he's still got it".

But American radio stations reported that their listeners were not bowled over by first single You Rock My World - and UK fans preferred to give Kylie Minogue her fourth week at number one rather than give Jackson's comeback song the top spot.

See also:

15 Oct 01 | Music
Vote: Who is king of pop?
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