audio review : Xscape ( album ) … Michael Jackson ( posthumous )

audio review : Xscape ( album ) ... Michael Jackson ( posthumous )

Michael Jackson’s newest album was released in 2001. Michael Jackson died in 2009. That means, ignoring the scant possibility that he’s not really dead, Invincible is and will always be his final album. I, like most of his real fans; that’s “real” in contrast to the ones who trashed him until they found out he was gone; wish that weren’t true, but it is. He had plenty of time to release another album, but, thanks in part to a fresh set of criminal charges, a lengthy trial and whatever psychological restraints that might’ve put on him, never got the chance. He’d just begun the process of making new songs when he died. That’s a sad reality, but it is a reality. This Xscape album is an ill-conceived fantasy.

Unlike the first posthumous album, entitled Michael ironically enough, I think it’s the real Michel Jackson singing on all these songs, but this being an album of his in any real sense ends there. It wouldn’t even qualify as a proper compilation because the original songs these “contemporized” versions are based on are mere demos; songs he recorded but decided not to release. Presenting them as they were, which, to executive producer LA Reid’s credit, does happen via a special Deluxe Edition, might’ve been forgivable. Giving the master vocals to a handful of popular producers to basically remix for profit, à la Blood On The Dance Floor, is conceptually, if not artistically, reprehensible.

The songs are better than you might expect though, mainly because of Michael Jackson’s original vocals, which essentially make them what they are, but also because of the new music Timbaland and others set them to. Most have been leaked on the internet for years; the original demos, that is; but the new production gives them a fresh sound. Michael Jackson almost definitely wouldn’t have started with a romantic Love song or limited the setlist to urban club play; there are no signature orchestral ballads or guitar rockers here; but it’s probably the closest we’ll get to how a real 2014 Michael Jackson album would’ve sounded. Interestingly, it’s the newer outtakes that disappoint.

Blue Gangsta and the misspelled title track; I can’t think of any logical reason to spell it with an “X”; sounded better in their original forms. Blue Gangsta, with its cheesy snare, is a mess here. Rapper Tempamental made the best version when he somehow got ahold of the master tracks back in 2006. Rodney Jerkins does better with Xscape, which he originally produced, but the booming bass is a bit (too) much. Worse is the fact that he abandons not only the beautiful pianos in the bridge but the original song’s entire coda section, which brought it to almost six minutes long. This new one is four minutes. It sounds fresher and sleeker; the horns add a nice touch; but is inferior on the whole.

I also prefer the original version of Love Never Felt So Good; I can appreciate the sloppy intimacy of just Michael Jackson and some fingersnaps over a piano; but the new version does an excellent job of conjuring the disco dance vibes of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Musically, while even Invincible, his worst album, is better, aside from the money-milking decision to limit it to only eight songs, there’s not really anything too displeasing about this album. It’s the underlying concept that ruins or at least heavily befouls the experience. Xscape is an escape alright, but I prefer the reality of having to cherish the Michael Jackson albums we have because we’ll never get another one.

my rating : 3 of 5

2014

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