Release Date: May 13, 2014
Record label: Epic
For all the snafus that marred the posthumous Michael release, the general buzz about the next one in line wasn’t dampened. Of course it helps when an artist is one of the most revered in music history to get the benefit of the doubt, but hardcore fans still haven’t been consistently keen on the way with which those in charge of MJ’s estate have gone about his vault material. For every bump in the road (The Remix Suite comes to mind), a number of his post-death collections and retrospectives have been very well done including the beautifully-packaged and compiled Hello Word: The Motown Solo Collection, the Bad 25 box set, the megamix extravaganza Immortal and the criminally underrated The Stripped Mixes.
Michael Jackson's second posthumous record is miles better than Michael, 2010's embarrassing, cobbled-together insult to MJ's legacy. Overseen by Epic CEO L.A. Reid, the album has been whittled down from about two dozen nearly complete tunes to eight, and then recast for the contemporary ear by producers such as Timbaland and J-Roc. The songs are all totally enjoyable, even the schmaltzier ones like Loving You, inspiring toe-tapping and appreciation for Jackson's phenomenal vocals.
The concept behind Michael Jackson’s “new” album sounds more ghoulish than the “Thriller” video. As advertised, “Xscape” features eight songs unearthed from the star’s large crypt of unreleased material - recorded, but not completed, between 1983 and 2001. It then fleshes out their tunes with more instrumentation, and "contemporizes" the production, through the efforts of hotshot producers from Timbaland to Rodney Jerkins.
Now Michael Jackson was no Prince. His last still-alive studio album ‘Invincible’ was six years in the making and a good half of that was shonky, self-indulgent twaddle at best; it suggested a paucity of decent ideas rather than an underground dungeon system stretching the length of the Neverland ranch packed with unreleased mega-bangers to make ‘Billie Jean’ look as party-starting as These New Puritans’ ‘Field Of Reeds’. The Jackson family’s first attempt to wring his still-warm corpse for gold was 2010’s ‘Michael’, a botched rush job that largely patched together half-finished tracks written and recorded between 2007 and Jacko’s death in 2009.
At some point after 1991’s Dangerous, it was becoming evident that Michael Jackson’s choice in production techniques was going to date him faster than any tabloid scandal he had gotten himself into. HIStory, his follow-up to Dangerous and first album since the beginning of the child abuse allegations, was preposterously overblown, and 2001’s Invincible was just bad. His passing almost five years ago, although tragic and sad, essentially took him out of the driver’s seat of his own music.
Review Summary: An interesting old-meets-new compilation that happens to be much better than the singer's first posthumous album Michael. Just make sure not to grab the deluxe edition.After a mere five years since Michael Jackson's death, we're already looking at the second posthumous compilation of songs featuring the legendary singer. Now, I'm not against hearing unreleased material by the man himself, but doesn't it seem like such an obvious cash grab? Hell, in a way, I'm actually surprised that there haven't been more albums released in these five years.
Underneath it all, underneath all the keyboards and programmed rhythms designed to bring the music on Xscape into the 21st century, is this simple fact: the lead single, "Love Never Felt So Good," was co-written by Paul Anka, a superstar of another era who never quite made his presence known in the new millennium. Jackson didn't care. MJ loved old show biz and songcraft in equal measure and that love can be heard on "Love Never Felt So Good," along with the other seven songs on XSCAPE.
Michael Jackson has been more prolific in death than he usually was while alive. For his second posthumous studio LP, weighing in at an ungenerous eight songs, Timbaland and Jerome Harmon lead a team of producers who've added bulk and even dubstep eruptions to Jackson's unfinished tracks, originally laid down between 1983 and 2002. "Loving You" (recorded during sessions for 1987's Bad) follows the wonderful, breezy legacy of "Rock With You" and "The Way You Make Me Feel." But it's an exception: Most of these songs rot and sway with fear.
Posthumous albums are usually artifacts mostly for loyal fans, but Michael Jackson wasn't your usual pop star. Xscape, the second batch of unreleased material to be released since the artist's death in 2009, isn't interested in mere fan service. It's aimed squarely at the top of the charts, a carefully curated attempt to redeem the sins of the hastily cobbled-together Michael.
The second posthumous Michael Jackson collection, following 2010's disastrous Michael, Xscape – curated by Epic CEO LA Reid – features eight unfinished demos "contemporised" by lead producer Timbaland, plus Rihanna favourites Stargate and previous Jackson collaborator Rodney Jerkins. Veering between a polished take on Off the Wall-era disco (elegant single Love Never Felt So Good, first recorded in 1983), intricate electro-pop (the unfortunately titled Do You Know Where Your Children Are) and Timbaland's default industrial-sounding R&B (Blue Gangsta, Slave to the Rhythm), it's an understandably ad hoc collection that conjures up snatches of wonder from scraps of genius. .
Is there a phrase in pop that better signifies the listener should proceed with caution than "posthumous album"? If so, then surely it is "second posthumous album". The implicit message seems to be "hey, remember those songs the artist deemed unsuitable for release during their lifetime that we went and stuck on an album anyway? Well here are the songs that didn't make that record!" Of course, there was a time when the idea of hearing Michael Jackson's unreleased material wouldn't have seemed like a terrible idea. Given the sheer quality of his peak period – from 1979's Off the Wall and arguably stretching as far as 1991's Dangerous, via the certified 80s classics Thriller and Bad – Jackson's studio floor scrapings always had the potential to shine.
There’s literally no reason for Xscape to exist unless you believe that American society requires a new Michael Jackson album to be released every three years or so until the end of civilization. That’s a different thing than saying Xscape is inessential or bad. In fact, the second posthumous release from the Jackson estate has some honest to God, capital letter M Moments across its 34-minute runtime.
Michael Jackson has released more new music in the five years since his death than in the 12 years before it. Jackson was a perfectionist about his music, and he recorded many more songs than he ever released. That means that there's a lot of unreleased material in his archives; Michael appeared in 2010, and now we've got this strange, underfed, vaguely horrid eight-song record, inexplicably named after the group that had a hit with "Just Kickin' It".
From the first, there was the voice, and with it Michael Jackson crafted beauty. The sequins and moonwalk came later. Even as a tyke he captivated with tonal purity, and in the intervening four decades and 10 studio solo albums that voice was a unifier, one nestled not just within universal playlists but our very neurons — as anyone who's ever awakened with the bass line to "Billie Jean" or the chorus to "Rock With You" out-of-the-blue rolling through their heads can attest.
“Xscape,” the new album credited to Michael Jackson, revolves around the familiar voice of a ghost mourned worldwide. That voice is airborne and supple, tenderly concerned, playful and percussive; then it grows increasingly tense, distraught, desolate, embittered. Jackson’s voice is a precious digital keepsake; it’s also, on many of the tracks, the only part of his latest songs that Jackson ever heard.
Back in 2001, a bewigged and bewildered Michael Jackson, as a riposte to a distinct lack of support from his record label, took the promotion for his contemporaneous Invincible album upon himself by venturing forth upon the streets of New York and participating in a record signing at Virgin Megastores. In a further desperate manoeuvre, the album was then released with five different coloured, although otherwise identical, covers: a tactic motivated by the somewhat cynical assumption that this would boost sales due to the fact that his millions of diehard fans would surely buy the album in all five different colours. The colours were blue, yellow, green, red and silver.