Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Album Review: Michael Jackson - "Michael"

  As a long-time Michael Jackson fan, the idea of listening to new music from the King of Pop was something that I've been looking forward to for years. After his unexpected passing last year, I knew that June 25th marked the end of an era as far as his music is concerned. The awaited new album would never see the light of day, at least the way Michael himself envisioned it. However, there was still a possibility that many of his unreleased recordings saw the light of day in the future. Almost a year and a half later, Sony releases "Michael", a posthumous album (or so they claim) of new music that Jackson was working on the last couple of years.

  The approach for this record was risky because a lot of the material was unfinished or too raw to meet Sony standards so a decision was made for other producers to finish what Michael had already started. People like Teddy Riley or Neff-U were brought in to work on the project following a "roadmap" Michael had left in order to complete the album. This has caused a backlash from fans everywhere who claim that the tracks should have been left as untouched as possible, which ponders the question: Could they really intuit what Jackson would have wanted for each given song?

  To make matters worse, there are claims that 3 of the tracks (the ones produced by Cascio) feature an impostor and not Michael's voice. This is partly why we must not consider this a new Michael Jackson album per se, but a collage or collection of unreleased material completed as a tribute or testament to his genius.

Lets do a song-by-song analysis of the album:

Hold My Hand (7/10)

 An early version of this mid-tempo track had already leaked in 2008, so die-hard fans were already familiar with it. The song in itself is pretty decent, although it sounds more like something Akon would do (the credits don´t lie) rather than a Michael Jackson hit. Although enjoyable and uplifting, I do not think it serves the album well by having it released as a first single. The best moments of this track is when Michael's voice is prominently featured.

Hollywood Tonight (8.5/10)

 This energetic track is definitely one of the highlights of the album. Produced by longtime collaborator Teddy Riley, both the music and the vibe contained in this track is more reminiscent of the Jackson we all know and love with a modern 2000's twist that will make you want to dance to it. The lyrics talk about the dangers of success and fame, with Michael's vocals sounding deeper than usual but nevertheless effective. It has definite single potential (they should have gone with this one instead of Hold My Hand). On a side note, the spoken bridge is performed by Taryll Jackson, one of Michael's nephews and member of 3T.

Keep Your Head Up (6/10)

 This is the first Cascio track of the album, a mid-tempo song that culminates with a gospel choir singing about hope and strength in life. Many fans are divided in their opinions regarding the authencity of Michael's vocals. Based on my humble intuition, I believe that this is the only one of the Cascio tracks that could feature his real voice. An early version of the song was leaked weeks ago which featured some Earth Song adlibs that, thankfully, have been removed in this final album version.

(I Like) The Way You Love Me (8/10)

 The original demo of this song was released a while ago on the 2004 Box Set, The Ultimate Collection. It was not unusual for Michael to return to tracks from previous album sessions and rework them for new releases. This was the case with this song which features excellent production by Neff-U as well as a brand new intro and vocal effects. This is an example of how additional production can be successful on the album when done properly.

Monster (4/10) 

 One of the most suspicious tracks on the record. The estate situates the recording in 2007, at Eddie Cascio's home studio with Michael singing through a lenght of PVC tubing. One cannot help but wonder if this is just a way to justify the fact that Michael's signature voice is nowhere to be found in this song (except for bits and pieces taken from previous recordings). However, it does prove what an excellent producer Teddy Riley is combining melody and innovative sounds. With a rap by 50 cent, the song does have great potential. Too bad most of us don't believe it is really Michael Jackson singing.

Best of Joy (9/10)

 Recorded in Los Angeles in 2009, this mid-tempo ballad is believed to be one of Michael's final recordings and his voice could not sound any better. Delicate and smooth, it features Jackson's distinct falsetto
as he sings "I am the moon, you are the spring, our lives a sacred thing"  to his loved one. Produced by Neff-U, this is one of the strongest tracks of the album, and one that showcases the amazing talent that Jackson still had before taking his final bow.

Breaking News (2/10)

The first song to be previewed from the album, and also the most controversial one. While the estate defends its authenticity, his fans believe that the person singing is not the real Michael Jackson but an impersonator. The vocals of this anti-media track lack the strength and clarity of any typical Jackson recording, yet Teddy Riley's production infuses it with a much needed catchy pop groove. Overall, this is definitely the weakest link of the record.

(I Can't Make It) Another Day (7/10)

 Taken from the Invincible recording sessions, this track is written and produced by Lenny Kravitz who is also featured in the background vocals. Part of the original 1999 demo leaked a while ago, prompting Kravitz to complete production on the track by adding drums and guitar which consequently has overshadowed Jackson powerful vocals in this new version. However, even though it does seem somehow incomplete, the song showcases Michael's amazing vocal range and adds a much needed rock vibe to the album.

Behind the Mask (9/10)

 Originally intended for Thriller, Behind the Mask is a adaptation of one of Michael's favourite songs by Yellow Magic Orchestra who gave him their blessing to add new lyrics and arrangements. Producer John Mcclain has produced this new version by modernizing the production in search of a more current sound. The song is one of the strongest included in this music collection, with Jackson vocals sounding as good as ever. Would have definitely become a hit had it been released in the Thriller era. However, one cannot help but wonder how the original 80's version would have sounded like without all the updated modernized production that has been added later on, in order to make it blend in with the rest of the songs of this record. Sony should definitely consider releasing it someday as it was originally conceived.

Much Too Soon (8/10)

 Another track shelved from the Thriller era, Much Too Soon was a song that Michael would return to over the years but never found its place on any of his albums, perhaps because of its folk inspired sound. It showcases the simplicity of an artist who was also a great singer/songwriter dealing with love, regret and yearning. With just the exquisite sound of his voice accompained by strings and acoustic guitar, this bittersweet song is an excellent choice to end the album. 


  1. love MJ, and I know i have got this for xmas, really great review here

  2. Bought the album this afternoon. I wasn't sure what to expect as I avoided to listen to every snippet that was circulating on the internet.

    Let me start with the weakest track - Monster. Overproduced. The sound effects accompanying Fifty Cent's rap was irritating. I also think Fifty Cent is unnecessary.

    The best fast tracks in Michael for me are Hollywood Tonight and Behind the Mask.

    But the diamond gems in this album have to go to Best of Joy and Much Too Soon. These two tracks remind me how utterly beautiful Michael voice is in naked form (As in without hiccups etc.).

    I almost had tears whilst listening to the Best of Joy and Much Too Soon.

    As in (I Like) The Way You love Me - I own the box set and I sincerely prefer the original arrangement. The original was simple, romantic and it has that classic Doo Woop sound. It reminds me to rain drops and dancing in a street at night time. The new arrangement is great but quite a downgrade from the original. I also prefer the original title of the song - without (I Like).

    Is it worthwhile to buy this album? Yes. Majority of tracks in this albums are still like heaven to earth when being compared to a lot of current pop songs and albums. But what makes this album truly worthy to buy to my last dollar is due to Best of Joy as well as Much Too Soon. (I Like) The Way You Love Me could be with these two if not due to the new arrangement.

    I give this album 8 1/2 out of 10.


  3. Update:

    I think it's a solid album. Granted Michael wasn't there to approve it but I think Teddy Reilly and the other producers have given their best to create a great album.

    (I Like) The Way You Love me - Even though I prefer the original version, the new one has finally growing into me. The new version is good to listen to whilst jogging and the old one is good for dreaming and dancing in the dark.

    As in Monster, I'm starting to like the track albeit the annoying Hah! Hah! effects accompanying Fifty Cent.

    Great album, Teddy.


  4. Thanks for your dedicated comments Jay. I agree with you on which are the strongest tracks of the album, both uptempo and ballads. I still don't fully enjoy Monster though, I have my reservations that the voice featured on it is in fact, Michael's. As you said, The Way You Love me was already incredible in its original demo arrangement, although the intro in the new one is amazing.

    I'm glad to see you are sharing your musical thoughts with us, and I hope you continue in the future. :)