Friday, May 30, 2014

MAY 2014
When Michael Jackson died in 2009, he left behind many unreleased songs in various stages of completion in the archives. With a superstar of his magnitude, it is too tempting not to release these songs for public consumption. While some will argue that these tracks were unreleased for a reason, fans' hunger for new Michael Jackson music has overruled this objection. Besides, it is of interest to see what other ideas MJ was working on while recording albums such as 'Bad', 'Invincible' and 'Dangerous'. Antonio "LA" Reid had the immense task of determining the final track listing for this- the 2nd posthumous album of new material. The earlier such album, 'Michael' was patchy. 'Xscape' is far stronger, with no filler and songs worthy of being added to MJ's catalogue. Reid's decision to use tracks that were almost completed was wise. 
The new set opens with its best song: "Love Never Felt So Good". The deluxe edition contains 2 versions of this song Jackson co-wrote with Paul Anka; a solo recording and a duet with Justin Timberlake. Both are great, with JT sounding chuffed to be collaborating alongside his musical hero.
"Chicago" finds Jackson in fine voice, with able production from Timbaland. Next up is another highlight track: "Loving You". Michael created this song and it is magical enough to belong on 'Off The Wall' or 'Thriller'. 
"A Place With No Name" is the most curious track of the new album. Michael reworks the 1972 US #1 "A Horse With No Name" from the group America. More credit is due to its original writers than anything added by Jackson or co-writer Dr Freeze. 
"Slave to the Rhythm" is an LA & Babyface outtake from the 'Dangerous' sessions and helps maintain the quality. The track is followed by another of the album's strongest tracks: "Do You Know Where Your Children Are". This Jackson penned song was first considered for the 'Bad' album. Here, Jackson tackles a social issue over a Timbaland-led makeover.
On "Blue Gangsta", another project with Dr Freeze circa 1999, Jackson revisits the gangster theme of "Smooth Criminal". This is no match for its predecessor. It's 1 of the album's weakest moments, but passable nevertheless. 
Title track 'Xscape" closes the album with some trademark Rodney Jerkins touches. This too, is okay, but lacks anything new to give it a wow- factor. The album is shorter than the usual album length, but the selections flow well and nothing sounds out of place. One can easily imagine this as the album Jackson would be releasing in 2014. In fact, I'd go so far as to claim it as 1 of his best albums.
The deluxe edition includes the original versions of the same tracks. This offers us as an intriguing insight into the process Jackson applied to the recording of his albums. His meticulous attitude meant that some gems did not surface. The re-tweaking of some of this culled material works well on many of the tracks. Contrasting the 2 versions of "Loving You" is a perfect case in point. I for one am very happy that we finally got to hear these "new" songs from a performer whose influence and absence is still felt strongly 5 years after his passing.

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