** (out of 4)
Regardless of the varying quality of the music they contain, posthumously released albums are usually pathetic . Often, a group of music biz execs take a break from, say, gorging themselves on whatever’s left of Justin Bieber’s sweet young soul to squeeze more cash out of beloved icons no longer around to complain. Their goal? Rally the artist’s fan base by assuming that no one will speak negatively about a legend, especially a dead one.
For Michael Jackson, who passed away in 2009, this has already happened. 2010’s “Michael” was a bloated mess, reminding all of us that there’s a reason acts leave certain material on the cutting room floor. Like “Michael,” the new “Xscape” compiles unused Jackson demos and gives them a modern touch. However, this time Epic Records CEO L.A. Reid (the man who brought us giant artists like TLC, Usher and Outkast) served as executive producer on the project and handpicked songs after gaining access to four decades of Jackson recordings. I imagine his goal before the project started was, “Focus on MJ’s voice and get the hell out of the way.” The finished results are varied, and this isn’t saying much, but this is the best attempt I’ve heard in a long time.
First single “Love Never Felt So Good” hearkens back to classic MJ tunes like “Rock With You” and makes a great opener to the record. The Timbaland-helmed “Chicago” and “Loving You” do justice to Jackson’s style and suit his vocals well. Yet the title track and “Blue Gangster” are undeniable clunkers, and I still haven’t gotten over the inappropriately named “Do You Know Where Your Children Are.”
You have the opportunity to rename a Michael Jackson song literally ANYTHING else, and that’s the choice you make? SERIOUSLY?
“A Place With No Name,” Jackson’s cover of the 1972 America easy listening jam “A Horse With No Name,” comes with uncessarily sugary coating from production duo Stargate (Beyonce, Rihanna) while lifting the keyboards from Jackson’s “Leave Me Alone.” This kills any emotion found in the original song.
Streaming services like Spotify have posted the original demos of these songs alongside the new works. Not surprisingly, the original versions are much better than what’s found on “Xscape,” which is neither bad enough to damage Jackson’s legacy nor good enough to add much to it.
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