Album Review: Michael Jackson’s MICHAEL
The title of this review – Michael Jackson’s MICHAEL – is misleading. Despite the fact that the late King of Pop co-wrote eight songs and sang each (allegedly), this is, in actuality, SONY Records’ MICHAEL. Since MJ is no longer with us to stamp his personal notary on each track, his record company and his estate took it upon themselves to create this collection, chosen from a vault of unreleased songs. And so, we’ve been presented with a compilation of 10 tracks made up of demos left behind by Jackson, posthumously produced and finished by past collaborators, such as Teddy Riley and John McClain and some new hitmakers, like Christopher “Tricky” Stewart (Beyonce, Rihanna, Mariah Carey) and Theron “Neff-U” Feemster (Ne-Yo, Jamie Foxx, Mary J. Blige). Many are torn by the existence of this record. Some see it as shamelessly pimping out MJ’s name to make an instant payday. Others see it as an opportunity to hear Michael once again, if only to make them smile just like he always managed to do. Those of you who excepted a classic Michael Jackson album – the few naive people you are – don’t. But make no mistake, MICHAEL has some great music.
Now, let’s start with the voice. After all, when it’s all said and done, Michael Jackson’s ultimate legacy is his incomparable pipes. With all the controversy surrounding the song “Breaking News,” speculation started rising as fans wondered, “Did Sony Records recruit an impostor to record these unfinished songs?” Well, after some thorough listening, Michael Jackson’s presence on this album is total. Although it’s being promoted as being a representation of songs Jackson was working on in the last years of his life, an audiophile or MJ fanatic (I am both) can decipher that each track came from various stages of his career. For instance, the breezy mid-tempo track “(I Like) The Way You Love Me” first appeared on a box set back in 2004 as a bonus track. The John McClain produced “Behind The Mask,” originally written and recorded by New Wave group Yellow Magic Orchestra in 1979, MJ recorded back during the Bad album sessions when frequent collaborator Greg Phillinganes covered it himself (originally a instrumental, Michael added lyrics before giving to Phillinganes). The closing acoustic guitar laden ballad “Much Too Soon” sounds like a leftover from Thriller or perhaps one of his mid 1980s sessions with Sir Paul McCartney.
Thematically, it’s all over the place. Previous Jackson LPs all possessed a melodic and sonic arc that made each song move seamlessly to the next (Off The Wall had a dazzling, exciting confidence; Thriller was decidedly weary and claustraphobic; Bad had a premeditated edge of icy attack, etc.). On MICHAEL, it’s obvious that the record was thrown together without any painstaking thoughts of why these songs all belong next to one another. It’s a pot-luck CD; like putting lasagna, a hot dog and jerk chicken on one plate for dinner – it may taste good, but one has no business being on the same plate as the other. Had a single producer handled the completion of the album, or if an actual family member or MJ Historian been involved with handpicking each track, this could have been a profound statement rather than a collection of individual tracks.
With everything aside, there are moments here that are magical. Chief among them is “Best of Joy.” Touted as one of Jackson’s very last songs that he completely finished before dying, the track has an uplifting aura that’s reminiscent of one of Michael’s favorite groups, The Bee Gees. The background overdubs are here, as is his signature range and vibrato, but there something extra as well; an atmosphere of reassurance and relief. To hear something truly “new” from Michael is perhaps the best thing one could hope to receive from this CD. “(I Can’t Make It) Another Day,” written by Lenny Kravitz, was first recorded back in 2000, by ultimately it was left off of Invincible. With some finishing touches, this industrial, rock-edged track is the most unique of the bunch, showcasing MJ’s voice in various emotions, which will please his fans beyond comprehension.
In the end, your preconceived emotions toward Michael Jackson and/or this Sony situation will ultimately determine if you’ll buy this CD or not. Whether you want to have a piece of Michael with you or you refuse to support the money-hungry record executives, you’ll be right either way. This album won’t prompt any musical revolutions. However, considering your alternatives in pop music today, you can’t really go wrong with MICHAEL.
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