Posthumous albums are nothing new these days, but Jacko’s is odder than most: Alexis Petridis
There is, of course, nothing odd about the posthumous album. Their manner of production has been set in stone ever since the premature rock and pop corpses started piling up in the 60s: cobble together some outtakes, demos and incomplete tracks, tinker with them until they sound finished, present to the public. But “there is, of course, nothing odd about” is a phrase seldom used in conjunction with the late Michael Jackson: 18 months after his death, the World of Wacko can still be relied upon to bring the weird. So it is that the first posthumous Jackson album arrives with a press release not merely providing details of songs, plus a lot of guff that suggests that the Sony Corporation is essentially a philanthropic organisation dedicated to ensuring the personal wellbeing of Michael Jackson’s fans, plus gripping insights from producer Ron “Neff-U'” Feemster into the both singer’s working processes and his consummate skills as a conversationalist – “He was like, ‘How do you feel?’ I was like, ‘I feel good.’ I was like, ‘How do you feel?’ He was like, ‘I feel good.’ And he was like, ‘Let’s see what happens'” – but also a lengthy section informing the listener that it is actually Michael Jackson they’re listening to, rather than, say, an Italian Michael Jackson impersonator called Ricky Galliano, performing in a secret studio in Lausanne, Switzerland at the behest of a shadowy figure from Bahrain. Sony has been forced to do this because members of the Jackson family have taken to Twitter to claim that at least some of the tracks on Michael are faked; indeed, members of the Jackson family did something similar when the film This Is It was released, claiming that the documentary footage featured a body double, a claim angrily denied by its makers.
By whatever means, This Is It did a pretty good job of suggesting that the man who was rehearsing for the O2 concerts was an artist at the height of his powers: no mean feat considering the welter of evidence to the contrary, not least the fact that he dropped dead from a heart attack midway through rehearsals, full of propofol and lorazepam. Michael attempts something similar, pulling in a host of contemporary R&B and hip-hop collaborators – Rihanna and Beyoncé producer C “Tricky” Stewart, Akon and 50 Cent among them – in order to suggest that, far from being a remote, peculiar and slightly disturbing figure, he was just one of the guys: another urban artist making contemporary R&B.
In fairness, Jackson had tried something similar when he was alive, by employing the producer Rodney Jerkins and a recording of the late Notorious BIG on 2001’s woeful Invincible. Furthermore, he set some of these new collaborations in motion before his death. The Akon track Hold My Hand was nearly finished, and 50 Cent had already been contracted. Lacking any knowledge of what the late King of Pop might have actually wanted him to do on Monster – a lumpy attempt to recreate the atmosphere of Thriller’s title track – the rapper opts to boldly break with the tradition of a lifetime by shouting gormlessly about murdering people to a background of gunshots. Alas, all attempts to normalise Jackson are derailed by the arrival of Breaking News, a mind-boggling bit of self-justification with a peculiar muffled vocal. “Am I crazy because I just eloped?” he demands imperiously, rather demanding the answer: no, mate, eloping had nothing to do with it – people started looking at you funny because you dangled your newborn baby over a balcony, had so much plastic surgery that your own mother said your nose “resembled a toothpick”, had your hairline tattooed on your face, and all the other frankly strange stuff.
Michael’s real problem isn’t the late star’s indisguisable weirdness, but a paucity of decent material. The best track, by some considerable distance, is a fantastic cover of the Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Behind the Mask, which dates to the early 80s. For one thing, it’s a better song than anything else on here; for another, the man singing it sounds utterly energised, which is more than you can say for the disembodied voice on Breaking News. Elsewhere, the ballads Best of Joy and Keep Your Head Up are as schlocky as anything on Invincible, and the Lenny Kravitz collaboration (I Can’t Make It) Another Day is of exactly the standard you might expect from a track that failed to make the cut for his worst solo album. Only the surprisingly gutsy Hollywood Tonight does anything to assuage the feeling that, quite aside from his personal life, Jackson had been in an artistic tailspin for years before his death. That seems of a piece with the inadvertent message that Michael sends out: try as you might, you can’t rewrite history.
Author: Alexis Petridis
Posted by: Conrado Garcia Jamin
- Michael Jackson: Michael – review (guardian.co.uk)
- Michael Jackson ‘Hold My Hand’ Music Video with Akon (current.com)
- CD Review: Michael Jackson, “Michael” (popdose.com)
- “New Video: Michael Jackson feat. Akon “Hold My Hand”” and related posts (missinfo.tv)
- Hear Michael Jackson’s Controversial New Album (rollingstone.com)
- Jackson’s first posthumous video hits the Web (today.msnbc.msn.com)