Though Michael Jackson has kept the world waiting for his new album, executives at his record label got a sneak peek of the nearly finished work this week.
Invincible is the tentative title for the record, sources said, though an Epic Records spokesperson could not confirm any details about the project.
The label did say that the record is planned for release in time for consideration for the next Grammy Awards. That means it would have to be out by September 25.
Jackson recently made his collaborators sign confidentiality agreements about the album, but some details have surfaced.
Until a few weeks ago, Jackson was putting the finishing touches on the album with producer Teddy Riley at Miami's Hit Factory, according to sources at the studio, who said Jackson had been there for three months. The first single is a collaboration with Method Man, those sources said.
Riley and Rodney Jerkins produced the bulk of the album, the studio sources said. Other producers who have been connected with the project include R. Kelly, Swizz Beatz, former Jodeci member DeVante DeGrate, David Foster, Kevin "Shek'spere" Briggs and the Neptunes, though it is not known if their work will appear on the finished LP.
At least 50 tracks were recorded and 15 were previewed for the label this week, sources said. Some of the songs previewed included "Unbreakable," "Speechless," "The Lost Children" and "Privacy," though the track listing remains indefinite.
Meanwhile, Jackson's plans to pay tribute to himself with a concert featuring the likes of 'NSYNC, Britney Spears and Whitney Houston (see "Michael Jackson To Perform With 'NSYNC, Britney, Jackson 5") are undergoing some changes. The original announcement from Jackson's publicists said the concert would take place September 7 at Madison Square Garden in New York, with tickets to be available the first week of June. While further ticket information has yet to surface, show producer David Gest announced on Wednesday that a second show is being added for September 10.
Production spokespeople said all previously announced artists are still on for the tribute, though they're still figuring out if the lineup will remain the same for both nights. Madison Square Garden officials said they're still working out the details.
Preparations for the tribute are already under way. Initial auditions took place June 6 and 7, while callbacks are in progress for the casting of the show, an event choreographer said. Dance rehearsals are scheduled to start in mid-July, while band rehearsals are slated for the first week of September, according to the studio where the rehearsals are to take place.
Brian Thomas, the choreographer, said that while he's sworn to secrecy, he can confirm that producers are looking for 30 dancers trained in jazz and hip-hop, as well as performers with special skills, such as tumbling, for the two-hour show.
"They have to be versatile," Thomas said, "because they have to last the entire show. They might have to do one number with Whitney Houston and another with Brian McKnight."
Jackson and Gest have yet to select a director for the show, Thomas said, so "things can still change."
Jackson's hasn't released an album since 1997's Blood on the Dance Floor: History in the Mix, which sold relatively poorly. His last album of all-new material was 1991's Dangerous.