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Michael Jackson: "Invincible"; John Hiatt "The Tiki Bar Is Open"; Bleachmobile "Detonator"; Cody Cods "Tribute"

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Michael Jackson: "Invincible" (Epic Records)

The problem with a Michael Jackson album is that it's hard to judge it by anything less than monumental standards. Even Jackson himself seems to feel that anything short of phenomenal success is a failure. He still wants to be known as the king of pop and have his every performance seen as a major event.

And it does nothing to lower expectations when the new Jackson CD, "Invincible," has been six years in the making, with a reported budget of $30 million.

But let's face it, even a terrific groundbreaking album from Jackson would stand little chance of approaching the kind of sales *- 40 million for his 1982 album "Thriller" *- that turned Jackson into a pop icon.

As it is, "Invincible," while it has its share of decent songs, falls well short of terrific. And it's far from a groundbreaking effort.

In fact, the biggest flaw of the CD is that Jackson seems stuck in the '80s with his music. Despite the assistance of songwriter/producers like Rodney Jerkins and Teddy Riley, "Invincible" offers up the same kind of fusion of pop and dance beats and silky balladry that defined "Off The Wall" and "Thriller" — the albums that launched Jackson into the pop stratosphere in the first place.

Considering how profoundly the R&B genre has been reshaped over the past decade by hip-hop and by the way artists like R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys have found fresh ways to combine modern beats and grooves with old-school soul, jazz and rock, Jackson's inability — or unwillingness — to progress musically is a significant issue on "Invincible."

Still, Jackson redeems himself somewhat by tapping into the pop instincts that have always been at the heart of his music. On "Invincible" he shows he can still craft romantic ballads like "Butterflies" and "Heaven Can Wait" that boast lush and graceful melodies.

And up-tempo tracks like "Unbreakable" and "You Rock My World" (despite the latter song's silly opening) still crackle with pop smarts and plenty of verve.

Unfortunately, "Invincible" has several pedestrian tracks as well ("2000 Watts," and "You Are My Life" come to mind). The CD is also weighted too strongly toward ballads, and at nearly 80 minutes, it's too long for its own good.

For a normal artist, "Invincible" would stand as a solid, if not spectacular, effort. It would be a respectable showing. But for the man who would be king, "Invincible" can't help but be a disappointment. It simply isn't the kind of CD that deserves to elevate an artist to pop music royalty.

Alan Sculley

John Hiatt "The Tiki Bar Is Open" (Vanguard)

Hiatt's latest reunites him with the Goners, the great band that backed him during his '80s breakthrough into mass popularity. Everybody sounds like they're having a good time and some of the cuts have the loose feel of The Band at its best. But something about this falls flat. Maybe the problem is that the songs aren't particularly compelling. There's nothing wrong with this recording, but it just doesn't reach out and punch you with any real force. "Everybody Went Low" is a good rocker and "Hangin' Round Here" voices welcome upbeat sentiments. "My Old Friend" is a familiar tale to anyone who has ever been reunited with a long-lost love, and "Something Broken" is a great slice of bottom- line honesty. Sonny Landreth plays fine slide guitar, and the rhythm section of Kenneth Blevins on drums and Dave Ranson on bass is first-rate. As for Hiatt, he's intense and in good voice. Stepping back, this is a fine enough recording and Hiatt fans will find it pleasing enough. But, aside from the beautiful "I'll Never Get Over You," this effort fails to get the engines revving. — Ames Arnold

Bleachmobile "Detonator" (Skribble)

On their press photo, the three Japanese girls in the hard-core punk band Bleachmobile look as cute as kittens. But on their new album, "Detonator," they roll into our coast from the land of the sun on a scary, drumbeating warship with guitars clamped in their teeth like knives. To tell you the truth, I'm seriously considering tossing my Japanese mail-order bride catalog in the trash and waiting eagerly at the docks.

These three, Kanna, Suke and Sayuri, were supposed to arrive in the states in October, but postponed the trip due to our waging war in the Middle East, and decided to take it easy for awhile in Japan. Actually they are not from the mainland, but from the military island of Okinawa, where they are reportedly "the No.1 female band in their hometown."

I know what you're thinking, but Bleachmobile offers surprisingly more than your average foreign-rock novelty act, and the girls even manage to carve out their own signatures with some inventive and thrashing melodies. Guitar Wolf may stick to straight rockabilly-inspired punk, but the girls in Bleachmobile show they can create their own sound — not unique but definitely honest, reminding me of a beefier update of the early '80s D.C. hard-core sound.

We've seen joke all-girl Japanese punk bands before, but Bleachmobile is not one of them. These girls are serious, and when they finally make it over here, they will seriously kick some ass. —
>Wayne Melton

Cody Cods "Tribute" (Grundleville Records)

So what do five Durham, N.C., college students with diverse musical tastes and too much time on their hands go and do? Start a band, of course. Taking on the bewildering moniker of Cody Cods, the unique blend of music the band performs is equally confusing. The group goes from Southern rock (the album's opening track "Texas") to neo-hardcore ("Mannequin"), then on to '60s-infused college pop ("Freak I Am") in the span of three songs. This mix of genres might be good for playing college party crowds, but I think most music fans are a little too polarized to embrace a band that branches so far out in different directions. With that said, in the case of the Cody Cods, the group actually manages to pull off this eclectic patchwork of tunes by adding the component of tongue-in-cheek humor to the songs of "Tribute." After all, there's a lot to be said for any band that includes its own twisted version of the "world's greatest party game," Mad Libs (in this case, "Cod Libs"), in with its promo package. Even if the Cody Cods might not cut the mustard for those in search of one particular style of music to focus in on, the outfit does score points in my book for its generous use of wittiness and for displaying an earnestness that can only be found in a group of musicians who are really enjoying what they do. — Angelo DeFranzo

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