As much as I would like to ignore the controversy surrounding the new Michael Jackson album, Michael, I feel obliged to address it. Having received this album via Sony Records and not some dodgy internet download, it came with an accompanying press release which went into great depth about the creation of the album and the controversy surrounding the authenticity of some of the tracks.
Let’s get one thing straight, on any other day I’m a sucker for conspiracy theories and I would like to express that I am going to be as impartial as I can honestly be, as both a fan of Michael Jackson and a writer. I’m not here to impart my opinion on you regarding this specific aspect of the album, instead, merely to act as a vessel to present the facts.
After consulting many of the producers, musicians, vocal coaches and musicologist forensics (How do I get one of THOSE jobs?) that Michael Jackson has worked with musically over his long and illustrious career, Sony Records had this to say:
“We have complete confidence in the results of our extensive research as well as the accounts of those who were in the studio with Michael that the vocals on the new album are his own.”
There is doubt amongst many fans over the authenticity of three or more of the tracks, sparked by the release of ‘Breaking News.’ I’m sure that the debate will rage on long after the album is released; Sony have their story and the fans have their opinion.
The fact that this is a point of contention goes someway towards showing the importance of the legacy of Michael Jackson’s music and that his fans are passionate about it’s preservation. All I will say about how I feel on this issue is that the vocals weren’t always afforded the upfront sound that we’re used to from MJ songs and at times are very heavily processed. It is said that some of the vocals were taken from home recorded demos. Nonetheless, I will let your ears be the judge.
The album opens with the duet with Akon, ‘Hold My Hand.’ I found that this track was composed in the typical sentimental pop format, with the lyrics being extremely similar to the tenderheartedness of ‘Will You Be There.’ One thing I did not find tender was hearing ‘Akoooon and MJ’ at the beginning of the track.
Unfortunately, the album was a little pedestrian in the production efforts, none more so than on ‘Keep Your Head Up,’ where Tricky Stewart is on the boards and ‘Best Of Joy,’ where a young gentleman, possibly related to Snoop Dogg, called Neff-U handles production.
What we do see on this album is a definite return to the typical writing style of MJ that almost seemed bypassed on Invincible. The previously mentioned songs, though weak in production, are all written in a very distinctively Michael Jackson style.
The similarity to the Dangerous album is apparent, not only in the album art by Kadir Nelson, but also on the tracks where Teddy Riley steps in on production. ‘Hollywood Tonight,’ ‘Breaking News’ and ‘Monster’ are all produced by ‘The Finisher,’ as Michael referred to him. On all three of these tracks, you feel that a pop, lock or crotch grab is never too far away.
‘Hollywood Tonight’ opens with the inimitable MJ vocal percussion and has a driving beat with pumping horns and a funky guitar. ‘Breaking News’ also is full of life where the lyrics refer to Michael’s ongoing battles with the Media and his portrayal in it.
‘Monster’ also features the same topic and feels so very typical of the work Teddy Riley and MJ did on Dangerous, you almost expect a track from that album to run straight after it. It’s aggressive and progressive in its nature, with the beat changes on the pre chorus and chorus being very nice. 50 Cent lends his rap talents to this track and you can see why Michael Jackson wanted him on it, as, even though his verse is not amazing, he fits the track very well.
Another partnership that worked extremely well together on this album is the one with Lenny Kravitz on ‘(I Can’t Make It) Another Day.’ The Kravitz penned and produced track is a cross between the soundscapes of ‘Stranger In Moscow’ on the verses and ‘Dirty Diana’ on the chorus. With Lenny Kravitz on background vocals on the chorus in a call and response fashion and Dave Grohl on the drums, Michael Jackson’s impassioned vocal delivery tops off this cake very nicely.
‘Much Too Soon’ was allegedly written all the way back around the time of Thriller, but didn’t make its way on to the album. It is a very pretty composition and has the styling of the more folk-tinged Carpenters’ work, as well as Michael’s own hit from his younger years ‘Ben.’
‘Behind The Mask’ is a great number, featuring a sample of Japanese Synthpop group Yellow Magic Orchestra’s song of the same name. We’re in familiar Jackson territory with the vocal passion and percussion and the chorus switches to a 4 to the floor beat with a funky bassline and vocoded background vocals. If someone were driving by blaring this out of their car, and you only caught a snippet of it, you’d think Daft Punk had sampled a Michael Jackson vocal. It was a pleasurable experience.
My favourite track – and a track that MJ himself was very fond of – is ‘I Like The Way You Love Me.’ This track is the epitome of Michael Jackson’s musical style and character as it opens with him singing the melody and beatboxing down the phone, which is something you would expect him to do. The writing has all the familiar hallmarks of a Michael Jackson song in its chord progression and the playfulness and prettiness of the melody. The song was apparently written in 2004 however; it feels like it was written even further back than that.
All in all, I preferred this album to Invincible upon the first couple of listens and I felt that it picked up where Dangerous left off. I feel that the album got progressively better as it went on and there were eventually more good than bad songs on it and although it’s only 10 songs, it felt longer than that, in a good way. Just how much of Michael is actually Michael, I will leave up to you to come to your own conclusions.