By Nicholas Fonseca
Updated June 04, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

Michael used to be one of pop’s punchiest singles artists, but you wouldn’t know it from this undistinguished downer, which kicks off with a preachy title track and slogs through dour paeans to his musical idols (”John and Elvis Are Dead”), hometown, and suicidal uncle. It took the exuberant ”Flawless (Go to the City)” — which wisely samples the Ones’ shimmery 2002 club hit of the same name — to jolt this reviewer awake long enough to ruminate on why Michael’s music doesn’t seem to matter anymore: Baring your tortured soul is one thing, but unleashing a barrage of selfpitying ballads and expecting people to listen is a test of even the most open-minded fan’s patience.