We waited five years for this ?
Michael Jackson's "I Just Can't Stop Loving You," the first single from his upcoming album, "Bad," is a disappointment--and not just because he's coming off the biggest-selling album of all time.
With 1982's "Thriller," Jackson became the most celebrated pop performer since the Beatles, issuing a series of bold, striking hits, including "Billie Jean" and "Beat It." Since then, his supremacy has been challenged by such gifted artists as Bruce Springsteen and Prince.
One would think that Jackson, in seeking to reassert his pop supremacy, would have risen to the challenge with a striking statement equal to a "When Doves Cry" or "Dancing in the Dark."
Rather than an advance, "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" (which made its radio debut Wednesday and will be in stores Monday) is a marked retreat--a conventional ballad that could just as easily have been recorded by Lionel Richie or Peabo Bryson.
The point isn't that this is a bad record, but that it offers so little sense of breakthrough. It lacks the stark drama of Jackson's 1980 ballad "She's Out of My Life" or even the fey charm of his 1982 hit "The Girl Is Mine." The most you can say about it is that it's pretty, or pleasant.
"I Just Can't Stop Loving You" is a courtly, romantic duet with Siedah Garrett that steadily builds to a soulful finish. The single, co-produced by Jackson and Quincy Jones, has a dramatic, well-crafted arrangement, but it's all wasted on a song that is so ordinary.
The main problem is Jackson's lyric, which is so numbingly banal that you can't imagine even Richie--who has a reputation for greeting-card sentimentality--letting it out under his name. Sample line: I can say hey, farewell to sorrow / This is my life / And I want to stay here for always .
Perhaps Jackson is holding back stronger singles for later, thinking that anticipation for his first new music in five years will automatically send it up the charts.
Or maybe he is trying to lower all those inflated expectations, so that when the album itself (which includes this song) comes out at the end of August, people will be pleasantly surprised by possibly stronger tracks. Such a strategy is a decided risk: First impressions tend to stick, and the first impression of "Bad" isn't good.