Michael Jackson – Michael (Epic/Sony) CD REVIEW

The press release of this assemblage of previously unreleased MJ detritus claims that “the album marks another release under the new agreement between the Estate of Michael Jackson and Sony Music announced in March that continues the label’s 35-year relationship with Michael and his music.”

I hasten to point out that unless the label has a direct link to the spirit world, this “relationship with Michael” is commercial necrophilia. It’s a relationship that would be banned if it didn’t stand to make someone a whole lot of cash.

Each song on Michael comes with gushing liner notes, but we’re never given a genuine insight on the origin and development of the contents. How many of these ten tracks were complete at the time of the star’s death? Whose job was it to patch them up and make them ready for consumption? Exactly when were they recorded? Who played their musical contributions to the songs while MJ was alive, and who was asked to donate their musical services in a salvage action after his demise? We’re never told.

I had braced myself to come down hard on Michael, because grave-robbing isn’t to be commended, but when I gave the album a thorough airing, it wasn’t as execrable as it had sounded when I gave it a spin in the car.

The opening song, ‘Hold My Hand’, is a duet with Akon, and although it starts out like cliché-ridden so-called r’n’b, it soon turns into a kind of gospel piece with multiple voices and a piano-led conclusion. It’s no classic, but it is one of the better cuts. ‘Hollywood Tonight’ is awful; Jackson has scribbled out some embarrassingly bad narrative lyrics, and they’re played out ad nauseum. ‘Keep Your Head Up’, an ‘inspirational’ song about a sad restaurant waitress, desperately wants to reprise the “rousing” qualities of ‘We Are The World’. Meanwhile, ‘(I Like) The Way You Love Me’ is nostalgic for the music styles of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, notably doo-wop and sugar-candy soul, and it’s pleasant enough. Rapper 50 Cent features on ‘Monster’, though I hardly noticed. It’s an attack on paparazzi, but also appears to be asking whether the public, as a result of the photographic hounding, had begun to view him as a monster. ‘Best Of Joy’ shows that MJ could still sing near the end, but we don’t know what kind of technology was employed to improve his performance; in any case, the song is forgettable, and sports unforgivably hackneyed “forever and ever” type love lyrics. ‘Breaking News’ is again about the way that he is (or was) perceived, and features a particularly grunty bass. Lenny Kravitz (whatever happened to him?) wrote and features on ‘(I Can’t Make It) Another Day’, an attempt at rocking out that fails miserably. Japan’s iconic Yellow Magic Orchestra are reworked on ‘Behind The Mask’, a song from 1979 that Jackson or his post-producers has amended with mostly new lyrics. It’s not a patch on the classic synth-pop original. Little Tommy Emmanuel (whatever happened to him?) contributes lithe guitar to the final song, ‘Much Too Soon’, which otherwise, is sheer slush.

While Michael isn’t as awful as I had imagined it would be, there’s still not even one song here that would make it onto a ‘best of’, and only hardcore MJ fans will find solace in its second and third-rate cast-offs.

The sound, on the other hand, is slick, and the bottom end has kick. But somehow, that’s just not enough, because otherwise it’s just so damn duff. GARY STEEL

Sound = 3.5/5

Music = 2.5/5

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