With 'Thriller' milked until the dry teats cracked, both fans and Epic Records were waiting for new Jackson product as eagerly as the Allies were awaiting the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945. With expectation so heavy, it's somewhat surprising that instead of coming out with all dance guns blazing, the lead off single from the forthcoming 'Bad' should be a low key ballad duet with a virtually unknown (in the UK at least) Siedah Garrett.
I've written before that it's easy to take risks when you're sure of your audience, but the risk here was perhaps all the greater in that whilst Jackson's voice does excitement and exhilaration very well, he has never managed to convince as a ballad singer. And sure enough, on the 'no place to hide' openness of 'I Just Can't Stop Loving You', he fails to convince.
For all the starry eyed emoting of the one true love message, Jackson simply can't let the song do the talking and sings throughout with barely subdued breathless intent, as if he's dying to let rip with a trademark yelp but is struggling to keep himself in check with his overused vibrato signposting the after effects of an inner controlled explosion where 'Michael Jackson: Entertainer' is struggling to break free. It adds a tension to the mix that doesn't sit well against the liquid smooth production that suggests quiet nights in, or compliment Garrett's rather more laid back R&B stylings.
The track itself is a simple enough tune with a heartfelt lyric, but instead of tapping further into his own Motown/R&B heritage, Jackson has written a song that is more akin to the whitebread AOR outpourings of a Foreigner or Chicago, either of who could have come up with this at any point in their careers. True, much of 'Thriller' was deemed 'rock' enough to go into heavy rotation on MTV, but pandering to a white audience was a criticism aimed at much of his post 'Off The Wall' output, and on tracks like 'I Just Can't Stop Loving You', you can see the critics' point; this is meant to be Michael Jackson single after all, not #&@£ing Peter Cetera.
Designed to appeal to all demographs, 'I Just Can't Stop Loving You' is very much a conservative step backwards from mutant dance/rock hybrid of, say, 'Billie Jean', with the end result being a song that's easy to listen to in the short term, but rather harder to really enjoy in the long run.