Michael Jackson, “Xscape” (Epic Records)
Michael Jackson was such a perfectionist about his music that he was notorious for releasing albums on a painfully slow timeline: His last album of new music was 2001’s “Invincible” — eight years before his death — and that record was a six-year wait for Jackson’s fans.
His estate is less discerning when it comes to his music. There are now two albums that have been released under Jackson’s moniker since his untimely 2009 passing — 2010’s “Michael” and now “Xscape.”
Like “Michael,” this latest posthumous release is a compilation of Jackson outtakes that includes material from decades ago, so there’s already a dated feel to much of the album, despite the wizardry and production under the helm of Epic Records CEO L.A. Reid, who worked with Jackson in the studio for one of the tracks.
But that doesn’t necessarily negate the music, and some of the most enjoyable songs are the oldest: The first single, “Love Never Felt So Good,” with its mirrored-ball disco groove, is infectious and irresistible, with Jackson’s youthful-sounding falsetto sounding like it is gliding. It was recorded in 1983.
The magic continues through the funky jam “Chicago” as well as “Loving You,” a smooth, dreamy track given a fresh, modern sound, thanks to the magic of well-placed keyboards and Timbaland, the album’s main producer (the deluxe version of “Xscape” lets you compare the originals with the finished works). Songs like this make you wonder why Jackson shelved them.
Things start to falter a bit with “A Place With No Name,” which has the same beat and sound as “Leave Me Alone” from the “Bad” era and is lyrically weak: We can tell why Jackson left it on the cutting room floor. And it’s a sentiment that most will share for about half of the eight-track album.
There will likely be more posthumous Jackson records, given his penchant for overproducing, but will it be music the world and Jackson’s rabid fans (of which this writer is one) will cherish? Jackson may have been neurotic about recording, but it worked: In his adult career, he created two albums considered masterpieces and others that range in the spectrum of excellent to very good to good, which is an amazing track record.
Putting out music that falls below Jackson’s standards — even if overly high — detracts from the carefully constructed catalog the King of Pop spent decades creating and protecting. The holders of Jackson’s estate would be wise to apply some of the same standards the next time they consider releasing another posthumous album.