Michael Jackson: Michael

Posted January 7, 2011 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

First posthumous collection from the King of Pop doesn’t quite feel like a great cohesive album, but it has its share of magical moments

Let’s set the record straight: This is not a new album by Michael Jackson. It’s a ten-track posthumous album of outtakes and vault selections; the first of many more to come. If alive, MJ would probably be scared to death to release Michael to the public, especially with some of the songs sounding like hallow shells of his imminent creativity and signature pop indestructibility. Even with Teddy Riley patching up MJ’s demos to our standards on songs like “Breaking News” and “Hollywood Tonight” (served up with lots of narrative chatter), Michael doesn’t come close to MJ’s perfection of the Off the Wall/Thriller era or pull on the satisfying hip-hop styling documenting Dangerous. But what is for certain is that Michael isn’t a wash-out.

For starters, Akon’s world of Auto-tune somehow blends with MJ’s swooning on “Hold My Hand.” Thanks to some last-minute strings and , the song gets the rewarding breeziness that it was craving for when originally leaked in 2007. “Keep Your Head to the Sky,” with its gospel choir climax and feel-good pop, sums up the best of Jackson’s inspirational ballads like “Man In the Mirror.” Despite the dissatisfying demo-nurtured opening, “(I Like) the Way You Love Me” blossoms with its keyboard arpeggios and colorful harmonies. The Lenny Kravitz-penned and produced “(I Can’t Make It) Another Day,” featuring Jacko’s high “who-ooh,” is earthy in its pounding garage rock and just as simple in its chorus. The effects are true to Kravitz’ style, down to the raucous electric guitar solo, and are quite complimentary to Jackson’s experimental pop-rock.

Two of the song’s selections, which were recorded during the Thriller sessions, highlight the back of the disc and prove to be some of its strongest. MJ’s cover of the Yellow Magic Orchestra’s “Behind the Mask” gets a modest update with ‘90’s production, electro-pop bleeps, a singular sax solo and a funky rhythm that feels right at home with “State of Shock.” “Much Too Soon,” probably recorded during the Thriller era and undoubtedly the album’s crowning moment, reveals a warm and innocently fragile vocal on top of tranquil acoustic guitars. It’s conjures the innocence of “She’s Out of My Life,” but instead the sadness is pleasantly tweaked with a more upbeat somber gentleness rather than a mournful pity-party.

“Hollywood Tonight” and “Breaking News” are decent uptempo tracks, styled like New Jack swing reprises of”Why You Wanna Trip on Me” but don’t really measure up to Jackson’s Big Bang of hits. “Breaking News” is probably the odd ball of the bunch with Jackson’s voice, lacking much of his charisma and strong vocal punch, still a topic of debate. Listen closely and things awkwardly feel like a tapestry of a top-secret Auto-tune experiment. Add to it the idea of shooting another gaping hole in the leg of the media with the excavation of Jackson’s paparazzi headlines. On “Monster,” where 50 Cent explodes lyrically on his guest cameo, Jackson confronts the horrors of Hollywood while injecting his best return to the “Thriller” plot: “Just look in the mirror/And tell me you like what you see/Monster/he’s a monster/he’s an animal.” It’s not as questionable as “Breaking News,” but it isn’t all that refreshing knowing Ne-Yo recently played with the “Monster” canvas. Plus, three out of 10 songs focusing on Hollywood’s dark side gives Michael a bad aftertaste.

Hurting Michael the most is just how disorganized the songs are jumbled up; feeling like a playlist of non-released music, rather than a controllable cohesive album. The feeling of incompleteness isn’t all the songs’ fault, but with a few extra selections, of great quality, would have helped even out the edges.

Certainly some will jump on will.i.am and Quincy Jones’ bandwagon and lampoon Sony’s attempts at cashing in on MJ’s wealth, but posthumous albums are no stranger to the market. Labels are still digging up and releasing unreleased fossils from Jim Hendrix, Johnny Cash and Ray Charles. It’s not a bad collection, it’s still a bit more interesting than Invincible. And that’s a good thing. To take Teddy Riley’s recent words of defense over the project without sounding obnoxious, Michael’s worst is better than most best.





  • Release Date: 14 December 2010
  • Label: Epic
  • Producers: Michael Jackson, Akon, Teddy Riley, Giorgio Tuinfort, Theron “Neff-U” Feemster, Tricky Stewart, Eddie Cascio, Brad Buxer, Lenny Kravitz, John McClain
  • Spin This: Keep Your Head Up, Much Too Soon, (I Can’t Make It) Another Day

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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