Jackson asserts pop superiority

Michael Jackson
in stores now

Invincible is Michael Jackson’s first album released in six years. While this sixth solo CD by the “King of Pop” will never reach the supreme status of the classics Thriller, Bad and Off the Wall, Invincible (Sony/Epic) carries an explosive energy that is unique in itself. The album is amazingly upbeat compared to some of the angry lyrics and songs released in HIStory Volume 2.

Invincible is a refreshing break from the usual formulaic pop releases. It carries a mix of both dance beats and whimsical ballads, similar to all his past albums in that this album crosses several genres and musical styles. Songs like “Butterflies” and “The Lost Children” display his unique vocal range, including an amazing a cappella opening in his song “Speechless.” The song is moving and sincere, and one of the album’s more powerful songs.

Jackson’s first single “You Rock My World,” in which Chris Tucker and Marlon Brando contribute to what is more of a short film than a music video, offers classic “Smooth Criminal” dance music with a lavish beat and explosive sound. The short film for the song shows that his talent as a performer has not withered with age nor with constant criticism.

Jackson’s song “Privacy” challenges the claims of tabloids, while the album’s cover song “Invincible” is Jackson’s assertion he will remain at the forefront of musical ingenuity despite constant press criticism. Jackson’s claims are not without some credibility. While Invincible is no Thriller, the music is fresh, exciting and deserves an open ear.

-Bernard Pollack

Golden State
in stores now

Where has Bush been these past few years? Getting a new dog to be featured the album’s liner notes? No. The dog, Winston, seen on past albums is still there. Finding a new front-man for the band? No. Gavin Rossdale retains his sex-symbol status. Using the down time between albums to create a new sound? No, again.

The standard, alternative rock of Bush’s latest album, Golden State, treats the norm as the unexpected, making Bush out as one of rock music’s survivors. The band entered into the music scene at the end of the grunge era and made its mark during the period of pop. Golden State (WEA/Atlantic) assures that Bush can hold its own against the recent wave of new-metal.

The new album pursues a gritty sound amplified by heavy-handed lyrics, prominent guitars and Rossdale’s raspy vocals. Bush’s members know what works in their music, and Golden State is a reflection of that attitude. The album opens up with “Solutions,” a flashback to Bush’s earlier albums. Other tracks also recall the sounds of 1993’s Sixteen Stone. Heavy guitar chords are the basis for the current single “The People that We Love,” which has been receiving radio and MTV air play.

While the band takes no huge musical risks on the album, two tracks do stand out for their uniqueness. “Reasons” offers a new feeling and sound for Bush. “Out of This World” acts as the prerequisite experimental ballad. Bush makes the concept work with its focus on the song’s vocals and lyrics.

The album’s initial release was delayed by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Bush went back into the recording studio in order to remove some song material they viewed as possibly offensive. Despite some minor changes, Golden State maintains that Bush is a true member of rock music elite.

-Liz Bartolomeo

Welcoming Home the Astronauts
in stores Tuesday

Flickerstick is rock music’s guilty pleasure, just as the reality TV series that propelled the band into the mainstream as winner of VH1’s “Bands on the Run.” The Dallas band’s first major label release, Welcoming Home the Astronauts, captures the band’s contagious energy.

On their own, the five members of Flickerstick bring nothing musically challenging to the band, but their strengths outweigh their weaknesses. The crooning vocals of Brandin Lea combined with the emotive guitar riffs of Cory Kreig and Rex James Ewing make Flickerstick’s songs perfect for radio play.

Flickerstick’s lyrics stick to the old formula of “my girlfriend just left me, but I hope we can get back together.” But there is a sincerity in their songs that lets the listener forgive them for being generic. The band’s current radio single, “Beautiful,” has a straightforward message with a pop melody.

Flickerstick excels in its rock ballads. “Smile” oozes a sentimental sweetness, backed by Lea’s high-strung vocals. “Coke” wishes for more of the simple things in life. “Direct Line to the Telepathic” the album’s highlight, should have been placed as the closing track. It is an emotional stockpile of musicianship that builds up to a final crescendo of angst-ridden vocals.

Critics of Flickerstick may label them as just another TV-made band, but their new album will only serve to prove them wrong.

-Liz Bartolomeo

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