Chris DeLine

Cedar Rapids, IA

Michael Jackson “Michael” Review

Published in Blog, Culture Bully. Tags: , .

The release of Michael, while standing as a postmortem salute to the man’s final works, is not without its controversies. Michael Jackson’s father has spoken out against the new album, releasing a statement through his lawyer suggesting that Michael “would never have wanted his unfinished material to be released.” Like Joe, much of the other Jackson clan have also been adamant in their disapproval of the songs being released without Michael’s stamp of approval; his brother Randy going so far as building something of a conspiracy theory regarding the recording. Citing how the family was prevented from being in the studio during its production, he has raised issue with the vocal tracks used on the album, arguing that some were not actually Michael’s (Sony has since issued a statement denying of Randy’s claim). Add to this that the songs which were included on the album find their roots scattered across three decades and one begins to wonder just how questionable Michael‘s release really is. After all, following his death, Michael Jackson became the best selling artist in the US in 2009, moving over eight million albums by the year’s end; only in death has the artist seen a near-universal resurgence in popularity. It wouldn’t be an outlandish estimation to suggest that Michael is simply the next in a list of “tributes”—ranging from DVDs to books to video games to a forthcoming Cirque du Soleil tribute tour—to see release following the artist’s passing, subsequently cashing in on Jackson’s likeness while “honoring” his legacy. But in the end, the thing that matters most here is how genuinely good the final product is?

As Jackson’s family (and, of all people, have done, it’s easy to suggest that this new material might not come close to meeting the perfectionist’s unreachable standards. But despite being notoriously picky over every last detail of his work—a trait which was well documented in last year’s This Is It documentary—it’s not as though Michael Jackson’s most recent efforts were flawless. 2001′s Invincible was anything but, and the scattered new tracks released on 1997′s Blood on the Dance Floorwere greeted with a much deserved lukewarm reception. It’s hard not to focus on the man’s most acclaimed musical output and hope that his comeback album would have reflected the same vibrancy which he carried with him in years gone by. But in removing those rose-colored glasses, the reality is likelier to have been that even if he had completed every last song himself, Michael’s new music would have still only resembled a shell of the artist’s former classics. The unfortunate reality here is that this is the case.

This isn’t to say that Michael is a complete dud however. “Keep Your Head Up,” which might be the best of the bunch, thematically focuses on the importance of maintaining positivity, “Keeping your head up to the sky/Keeping your mind up, stay alive.” “Breaking News,” the first track to be unveiled from the collection, finds Jackson emotionally dealing with having his every move analyzed to death in addition to struggling with the media’s persisting accusatory tone which has haunted him for years, “Why is it strange that I would fall in love?/Who is that boogie man your thinkin’ of?” “Another Day” includes the welcomed sound of Jackson’s unforgettable “heee heee”s, finding Dave Grohl on the drum kit and Lenny Kravitz complementing the singer with a solid guitar line throughout. But if there’s one song that stands as the most important in signifying the depth of Michael it’s the collaboration with Akon, “Hold My Hand.” Akon admittedly wrote the track for himself a few years back but when the opportunity to share it arose he made the decision to take a backseat in the track and act as support to Jackson’s lead. This is important as the largely generic song is the first single from the album; to think that of all the unreleased material that Jackson had worked on in his life, a song which represents a sound and lyrics recorded roughly three years ago is supposed to be the best which we might hear. That prospect neither bodes well for this, nor the presumed follow up releases that Sony is likely planning for the coming years.

From the first track on, Michael is largely scattered, both in terms its production and Jackson’s lyrical contributions. The last track Jackson recorded during his lifetime, “Best of Joy,” breezes by without doing much musically, leaving the vocalist largely relying on repeating the lines, “I am forever/We are forever.” “Hollywood Tonight” opens with a choir’s echo before introducing Jackson’s trademark whispered scat. Lyrically the song is focused on the frailty of striving for fame, but it fails to progress pass its hook. Despite being produced by Teddy Riley, who was behind much of 1991′s classic Dangerous, the song does little to reflect any real sense of urgency though. “Monster” adds a sharp edge relative the album’s other tracks, but it doesn’t stand out as having the same raw vibrancy of its prototype, 1995′s “Scream.” Jackson’s hand-chosen addition of 50 Cent to help guide the track is an odd one, but the MC serves his purpose: dropping a dozen and a half bars of forgettable filler (“2010 thriller, there’s nothing iller, it’s killer”) before the song is again focused its star.

“Behind the Mask” and “Much Too Soon” are both said to have been written during the Thriller years. In the former, Jackson’s accusatory focus is on the phoniness of those who “control the world.” Just as the song oddly splashes bits of sax throughout, “Much Too Soon” does the same with spurts of harmonica and Spanish guitar, both accompanying Jackson as he channels James Taylor by crooning his way through the track. “(I Like) The Way You Love Me” opens with a recording of Jackson demoing the idea behind the record before a thumping piano line kicks in, weaving its way between a tapestry of vocal harmonies throughout the rest of the track. Like the rest on the album it’s a fine song, but is by no means as moving as Jackson fanatics are likely to make it out to be (e.g.: MTV recently called the track “as thrilling as anything the explosive star has ever sang”).

The hope was that Michael would serve as the celebratory final chapter in one of the most amazing musical careers that the world might ever see. That said, Wikipedia‘s listing of incomplete or unreleased Michael Jackson songs is so long that it would be foolish to believe this to be true. A la 2 Pac, this is likely just the first in a line of albums Sony hopes to scrape together and release in the wake of the King of Pop’s passing. Unfortunately, whatever follows from here on out will likely follow suit of Michael and fail to hold a candle to the icon’s former greatness.

[This post was first published by Culture Bully.]