Last week, a friend asked whether I think ’N Sync will replace Michael Jackson as the new King of Pop. Not that it mattered to either of us, but a hardy “hell naw” was my professional reply.

By this time next year, O-Town could be top pop dog, ’N Sync could be second fiddle and the Backstreet Boys could be old-school. Jacko, on the other hand, was king of the mountain for nearly 30 years before questions of indecency dimmed his star. Even now, with material that ranges from stellar to stale, we wait with bated breath whenever the world’s weirdest artist drops an album.

With the release of Invincible, we all ask the same questions. Does he still have it? Can he still sing? Is he finally looking old? Can he hang with the latest talent out there? The answers vary. Invincible is ambitiously titled at best, but some moments hark back to Jackson’s heyday, when you could catch a beatdown from any woman (or impersonator) who caught you dissin’ the incredible Off The Wall or Thriller.

Most notable is the sublime “Butterflies.” Fans who grew weary of the angry scatting Jackson subjected them to in half of the History CD will be overjoyed to hear the dude actually singing. His voice is still one of the most memorable in the record industry.

In fact, lush ballads are the hallmarks of the project. “Break of Dawn” might even earn a spot on somebody’s “do it” tape.

Rodney Jerkins and Teddy Riley stick their creative feet in the production on joints such as “Unbreakable” and the title track. But the guest spots from rappers, as well as the stuttering rhythm made famous by Timbaland (on “Heartbreaker”), seem contrived. Tyrese Gibson shows up and saves the day, however, on the ridiculous “2,000 Watts.”

In the end, the album does what Dangerous, Bad and History did. It starts hot, and slides into that sappy “save the children” vibe where Jacko whines some notes and cries the rest. Mike’s still got it, and it’s good to have his weird ass back. But Invincible could be titled Inconsistent.

Khary Kimani Turner writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail

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