Michael By Michael Jackson
Michael Jackon's first posthumous studio release, Michael–actually a compilation of outtakes–has been released amidst a groundswell of controversy: apart from the general attitude that it may be in poor taste to release unfinished songs that Joe Jackson–the departed King of Pop's father–and will.i.am–with whom M.J. collaborated shortly before his death–claim Michael would have never wanted to be released, there have also been numerous claims from friends and family members–including Katherine Jackson, LaToya Jackson, and Michael's nephews T.J., Taj and Taryll–that some of the tracks feaured on Michael do not even feature vocals by Jackson himself, but rather an imitator.
Perhaps it's merely a result of the power of suggestion, but a cursory listen to this album leads me to suspect that it might not be Michael Jackson singing on every track. Then again, I have no way of knowing for sure, so for the purposes of this review, I will attempt to appraise the album as, not the latest from the artist who released such peerless masterpieces as Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad–for to do so would be unfair, even if this is, in fact, the work of Michael Jackson, as this was clearly not a fully realized effort but something slapped together for financial purposes–nor a compilation of outtakes, since even that concept implies as aspect of authorial control, but as a possible tribute album, upon which a number of high profile recording artists and an assortment of Michael Jackson soundalikes have collaborated.
The album's first track, "Hold My Hand," apart from being sung by an almost unrecognizable M.J., is perhaps even less recognizable as a Michael Jackson track since it sounds like it was designed as a vehicle for Akon–unsurprising as it was written by, among others, Akon and his frequent collaborator Giorgio Tuinfort. Added to which, the song isn't exceptionally catchy, and feels like little more than a tired rehash of clichés. It really does make you wonder if Akon truly is the natural successor to the throne of Michael Jackson, seeing as the latter released era-defining records in any number of genres, ranging from Motown soul and disco to urban and New Jack swing, and Akon seems to be able to write only one kind of song.
Incongruously, the album's second track, "Hollywood Tonight," which sounds more like a Dangerous outtake than anything else, is a slapdash, scattershot effort which seems to embody the idea of an "unfinished" song and, not to besmirch the style, but it is slightly disappointing to hear heavily auto-tuned vocals from Michael Jackson, especially since the technique has a tendency to render the singer anonymous, even one as unique as Jackson. Moving even further away from his signature sound–which, admittedly, was sort of zany and scattershot towards the end–is "Keep Your Head Up," which feels a bit more like a late '90s R. Kelly track and therefore nearly just as dated as "Hollywood Tonight" and almost as boring as "Hold My Hand," and features an inspired performance, but perhaps one that relies too heavily upon Jacko's unwieldy falsetto, which had always simultaneously been both his crutch and Achilles' heel–it also features the album's first use of Michael's trademarked vocal "hiccup."
"(I Like) The Way You Love Me" starts off with a recording of Michael describing the tempo and melody of a song over the phone–it is at moments like these that the album plays more like a sentimental tribute to the departed artist, which emphasizes even more strongly that this album really is comprised of a few wispy scraps of things left lying around at the time of the artist's death. The song is a vast improvement upon the previous four tracks and built around numerous overdubs of Jackson's feathery vocals. Overwhelming attack on the senses "Monster," based around a massive wall of errant guitar riffs, drum samples, sound effects and creepy sounds, exemplifies another of Jackson's self-destructive tendencies–operatic grandiosity–but is almost crazy enough to work; even 50 Cent's brief and seemingly arbitrary appearance heightens the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feeling of the production.
The overly sentimental "Best of Joy" is merely acceptable and, along with "(I Like) The Way You Love Me" suggests that, towards the end, M.J. might have been moving in a much calmer direction musically. "Breaking News"–the song around which most of the aforementioned controversy was based, with Michael's brother Randy claiming that, upon being played the track by producer and engineer Teddy Riley, he immediately recognized the work of an impostor–is one of the album's stronger tracks. "(I Can't Make It) Another Day"–written by and featuring Lenny Kravitz, also featuring Dave Grohl on drums–exemplifies Kravitz's inability to create either convincing funk or rock music, and the blood bath that usually ensues when he attempts to combine the two. Rounding out the set are the instantly forgettable "Behind the Mask" and the unintentionally prophetic but still not very good gentle acoustic number "Much Too Soon." Few "tributes" have done as little justice to the name of a great recently departed artist and hopefully, in the interest of preserving the artist's legacy, this cash-in will prove unsuccessful.