This really is it: the last piece of original material from the King of Pop that the world is likely to see; the last time he gets to wow us with his unique talent; and the last time we have it confirmed that his best years were indeed long behind him. Released as a taster for the album, which is due out on October 27, This Is It started streaming from Michael Jackson's official website on Monday morning, four months after he died at his rented home in Los Angeles. It's safe to say that many will have approached the screen with trepidation, given that the last time he put out anything that wasn't deeply cringe-making was light years ago.
Needless to say, the website was jammed. "The video you are trying to watch is currently unavailable," read the message. Jackson inspired the strangely obsessive kind of fandom that he appeared to love and loathe in equal measure, and that had millions streaming simultaneously. So what about the song? Well, when we finally did get there, our suspicions were confirmed. Sort of. It's a soul-pop ballad about love. And the usual Jackson humility is there. "This is it, here I stand, I'm the light of the world, I feel grand," he sings in the opening line, reminding us why Jarvis Cocker stepped on to the stage at the 1996 Brit Awards to sabotage his self-congratulatory performance of Earth Song.
It's light on catchy hooks and the chorus never really gets going. But other than that, it's not bad. Not in comparison with some of the dross that appeared on Invincible, his final album. There's a nice guitar backing that keeps things moving. And the harmonies (some of which were provided by the Jackson brothers) are rich and powerful. But what's best about it is that there is a whiff of the Jackson of old. And herein lies the catch: that's because it's not actually new material. Apparently, it was written at least 20 years ago but, depending on whom you believe, failed to make the cut for Dangerous or Off the Wall. We would hazard a guess at the latter, since the feel is more 1970s soul than 1990s power pop.
That may explain why it's not terrible, but it doesn't leave us any clearer about his mental state at the time. Was Jackson about to make the comeback of all comebacks? We'll never know. His autopsy concluded that he was "fairly healthy" when he died, and his voice, in his familiar nasal soprano, seems to back that up. But as for his songwriting talents, This Is It draws a blank. Reactions from the public have been largely unenthusiastic, ranging from "rubbish" and "mediocre" to "familiar". Many have also commented on the poor production quality, which seems a little unfair, since scraping together a song from a measly demo by a man who is no longer around to make improvements can't be easy.
For those not content with a single song, the album will contain plenty more material, none of it new. The DVD, which contains footage from rehearsals for the ill-fated This Is It tour, which was to have started at London's O2 arena mere weeks after his death, will be more riveting. Meanwhile, the wheels of the Jackson machine chunter on, spewing hyperbole. "This song only defines, once again, what the world already knows - that Michael is one of God's greatest gifts," said John McClain, a co-producer of the This Is It film and soundtrack.
Back in the real world, This Is It may not be quite the shameful swan song we had feared. But it's no Billie Jean, either.