An album that sounds at the same time poignantly familiar and curiously new, Michael is the first posthumous album to be released by the estate of the King of Pop. Just like with every great musical artist – Tupac and Elvis being the two that come immediately to mind – there are bound to be hot debates surrounding the release of this album, all the more because some of the songs it features lack the polish typical of a Michael Jackson track, which just might infuriate his fans all the more.
Featuring ten new songs – one of which had a working version previously leaked almost two years ago, i.e. the Akon collaboration “Hold my Hand” – the album hits stores on Tuesday, 14 December 2010, just in time for the holiday season.
As a longtime Michael Jackson fan, I honestly don’t know what to think. On the one hand, these are Michael Jackson songs, and I couldn’t wait to hear them; even if they were finished by others, they were each in some stage of production when Michael Jackson died; they were each one of his “babies.” On the other hand, there is the very well known fact that Michael Jackson was a perfectionist, which raises the obvious question: can an album he didn’t micro-manage until the release date be called a real Michael Jackson album? Or is this album more like the movie This Is It, i.e. a hint of what could have been?
If this is the case, the hint is strong that this could have been an incredible album. And, as it stands, it’s pretty amazing already. It includes some of Michael’s best sounds, particularly those on his Dangerous album; the soaring choir in “Keep Your Head Up” is reminiscent of “Keep the Faith” and “Will You Be There.” Another sound that makes a comeback of sorts is from his song “Ben,” here reprised in the opening notes to the song “Much Too Soon.”
The mixture of themes the songs touch upon is also very recognizable. Some of the songs are pure joy – obviously enough, in the song “Best of Joy” – while others are pure love and hope: the abovementioned “Keep Your Head Up” is a hug to those feeling hopeless while “(I Like) The Way You Love Me” is a lover’s joyful laugh on a beautiful sunny day. In sharp contrast, some are pure anger, a mixture of emotions typical of the life of Michael Jackson; “Monster,” featuring 50 Cent, is reminiscent of “Why You Wanna Trip on Me,” while “Breaking News” is yet another song angrily lashing out at the tabloids that helped make him so famous and, later, infamous.
Speaking of “Breaking News,” this is a song that confuses me thoroughly. First off is the voice: at times it sounds like Michael Jackson; at other times, it sounds like someone imitating him, and at other times, it doesn’t sound like him at all. Is it because the song wasn’t, as mentioned previously, polished to the high degree of perfection we are used to?
Just like I was thoroughly puzzled that “Breaking News” is the song the estate chose to promote on their website a couple of weeks ago, I am thoroughly puzzled that they chose “Hold My Hand” as the album’s first song. While sweet in itself, the song sounds like an Akon song featuring Michael Jackson. And it’s not just that; this version is nowhere as good as the one that was leaked out about two years ago. In short, “Hold my Hand” is a great song that would be a gem in Akon’s crown, but doesn’t befit the position of opening song of this album.
Some of the songs seem like explorations of sorts, as if Michael Jackson was furthering his relationship with music to explore new grounds. “Hollywood Tonight,” the second song on the album, contains a little bit of everything: from the choir starting things off to the electrobeat slightly reminiscent of “Beat it” that then picks it up – mixed with the sounds of violins, at that. It’s an upbeat song about taking a chance on one’s dreams. Similarly, “Behind the Mask” begins with saxophone before breaking into the electrobeat typical of Jackson’s Bad and Dangerous days.
I found the song “Monster” quite disappointing. Not only does it lack the polish typical of Michael Jackson, but 50 Cent’s rap is definitely nowhere near the top of his game. Something tells me that Michael Jackson would have asked him to rewrite the entire thing, challenging him to return to or even surpass that top. Now, wouldn’t that have been a song worthy of a Michael Jackson album?
There is definitely a certain sweetness present throughout the album, which rings a big chord in my heart. I have, after all, always preferred Michael Jackson’s personal songs to his big hits such as “Thriller” and “Billie Jean.” Don’t get me wrong – both of those songs are incredible and are among my all-time favorites. However, the songs “Break of Dawn,” “Butterflies,” “The Lost Children,” and “Whatever Happens,” all from the stupendously under-appreciated album Invincible, are the ones that I turn to. And, thankfully, many of the songs on the album Michael are cut from the same cloth.
In particular, “Much Too Soon” reminds me a lot of the song “The Lost Children,” which is saying a lot, as I am of the opinion that “The Lost Children” is one of the best Michael Jackson songs there is; after all, its music is beautiful, its lyrics are poignant, and the result is the most empathic and loving love song he has written, dedicating it to the children of the world he so desperately wanted to help.
So what’s the verdict? The Michael Jackson fan in me loves this album. “Much Too Soon,” “Keep Your Head Up,” and “(I Like) The Way You Love Me” have already made it, after only a week, onto my list of all-time favourite songs. But the disappointment of “Hold My Hand” and “Monster” wakens the cynic in me, convincing me that this album is only for the estate to make as much money out of his demise as possible, and keeps me from fully appreciating what is definitely an amazing album.
First published here on Blogcritics.