Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Album Review: Michael Jackson - Xscape (2014)

Whatever else can be said about Michael Jackson’s tragic death at age 50 back in 2009, one positive outcome has been that people have once again started to reconnect with his extraordinary musical legacy.

For a while there, amid all of the other peripheral baggage that blighted the final two decades of his life – the abuse claims, the plastic surgery, the weird behaviour – it seemed we were in danger of forgetting all about the man’s music. Indeed, by 2009 it had become all too easy to forget that Jackson was one of the most important pop cultural figures of the 20th century. Not “wacko jacko” or the freak he was being portrayed as, but Michael Jackson, singer, musician, composer, producer, dancer … performance artist extraordinaire.
And so here we are in 2014, five years on, and all of that other stuff can be permanently parked, consigned to the garbage bin of speculation, myth, and history. Thankfully Jackson’s enduring legend (and legacy) lies with his music.

Xscape is the ELEVENTH posthumous Michael Jackson album release (thanks to Sony & Motown), but only the second full-length release comprising of brand new unreleased material (after the release of Michael in 2010).

Well, obviously it’s not “brand new” – the eight tracks on Xscape were composed and recorded at various times between 1983 and 1999, but for whatever reason they didn’t get released. Being the perfectionist he undoubtedly was, I wonder how Jackson would feel about these previously shelved tracks being out there today?

I’ve got the deluxe version of the album, which means 17 tracks – the eight tracks which make up the regular album, as mixed and produced by a large team led primarily by Timbaland, plus the same eight tracks in their original form as Jackson had left them. The closing track on the deluxe is a third version of the lead-off single ‘Love Never Felt So Good’ (a 1983 Paul Anka co-write) which features Justin Timberlake.

As much as I actually prefer the tracks in their original incarnation – as opposed to the eight freshly produced tracks as they appear on the regular version of the album – there’s nothing particularly outstanding on Xscape and there’s probably a good reason why Jackson had shelved this stuff.

I mean, it’s all okay, the 74 minutes listening time doesn’t drag or anything, but by Jackson’s standards it’s all a bit ordinary … the most interesting relic amid the original material being a track called ‘A Place With No Name’ which is a funky variation on America’s classic ‘Horse With No Name’. For me, it’s the best thing here (clip below).

If you’re a fan, you’ll lap this up, if you’re not, you’ll probably wonder whether or not the world really needed another Michael Jackson album. I find myself doing a bit of both.

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