Music Review: ’Michael’ imperfect but worth it
Michael Jackson, “Michael” (Epic Records)
Monday, December 13, 2010
Anyone hoping that “Michael,” an album culled from Michael Jackson’s vaults, would rival “Thriller,” “Off the Wall” or even “Dangerous” will likely be disappointed when they hear the first posthumous release credited to the King of Pop.
But that’s not to say that “Michael,” consisting mainly of material Jackson was working on during the last two years of his life, should be considered a disappointment or an artistic letdown — especially if the listener accepts it for what it is, and that’s not a Michael Jackson album.
Had Jackson not died last year, chances are he’d still be working on a follow-up to his last album, 2001’s “Invincible,” spending millions of dollars and untold hours trying to come up with an album that would outdo Kanye, Beyonce and whoever else was ruling the charts at the moment. None of the songs on “Michael” had been completed at the time of his death, and there’s no way of knowing if the perfectionist Jackson would have deemed them worthy of the album he was trying to create — or thrown them into the discard pile.
“Michael” should then be judged for what it is: a snapshot of Jackson’s musical thought process — Photoshopped and airbrushed, but still enjoyable.
Jackson’s estate selected producers such as “Dangerous” producer Teddy Riley and Tricky Stewart (Beyonce, Rihanna) to put the finishing touches on the album’s 10 tracks. It’s unclear how much studio wizardy was required to get the songs into top shape, but if “Hold My Hand” (the first single with Akon) is any indication, there wasn’t much. The song had leaked onto the Internet a few years ago, and while this version is more polished, Jackson’s vocals — tender, sweet but strong — sound almost identical to what circulated on the Web years ago. The ballad itself is saccharine and generic, but Jackson’s soulful performance gives it all the charm it needs.
Jackson co-wrote several of the songs on “Michael,” and the recurring themes that ran throughout Jackson’s work are evident here as he paints himself as the victim of the tabloids in “Monster” and “Breaking News,” two of the album’s weaker tracks. “Breaking News,” while it has noteworthy lines (“he wanna write my obituary” Jackson intones in one part), seems the most unfinished with nonsensical lyrics and a chorus that repeats Jackson’s name incessantly. “Hollywood Tonight” also warns of the dangers of seeking fame, this time with a young woman fooled by its lure.
There’s no song on “Michael” that will rank among Jackson’s best work, but there are a few that stand out. “(I Like) the Way You Love Me” is a groovy midtempo song that recalls a classic doo-wop sound; “Best of Joy” is a dreamy, airy track that features Jackson’s vocals at their heart-melting best, without a melange of sound effects and the vocal hiccups that often distracted the listener from that amazing voice; and “Keep Your Head Up” is a lovely inspirational anthem that accomplishes its mission with each listen.
We’ll never know whether “Michael” would have been anything close to the album that Jackson might have released had he lived, but by releasing these songs, fans can know that the King of Pop was off to a promising start. “Michael” does nothing to detract from Jackson’s amazing legacy and, if anything, gives us a little bit more to cherish, however imperfect.
CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: A portion of “(I Like) the Way You Love Me,” a sweet midtempo song with a doo-wop sound, was released as part of a Jackson box set in 2004. The version presented on “Michael” lives up to that initial tease.
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