Simply called 'Michael', the posthumous Michael Jackson album is not exactly a fitting legacy for the man in the mirror.
Posthumous Michael Jackson album
Half-way through the first posthumous Michael Jackson album, there's a moment that sums up the contrivances, controversies and bare-faced commercial drive that bedevils the whole affair. As particularly insipid, heavily processed R&B gurgles underneath Breaking News, Jackson (we presume) complains of his life in the goldfish bowl. To which the response must undeniably be, er, who exactly dangled his child out of a hotel window? And which record company is continuing to milk his infamy even in death?
Unless its producer Teddy Riley had guidance from beyond the grave, it's a spectacularly odd track to pluck from the piles of unreleased songs in the Jackson archives. And Breaking News is so awful, some members of Jackson's family actually suggested it wasn't the King of Pop singing on the track at all. Inevitably, record company statements were swiftly issued confirming its authenticity. But that's the real problem with Michael: it might have been Jackson singing at some point, but everything is so crunched, stretched and bent to fit the modern pop template, it feels horribly artificial.
So it's no surprise that the songs that date from the period when Jackson was not only alive but producing some of the 20th century's greatest pop (roughly speaking, the era between 1979's Off the Wall and 1987's Bad) are head and shoulders above everything else here. A cover of Yellow Magic Orchestra's Behind the Mask from the early 1980s is thrillingly urgent, and it's followed by Much Too Soon, a ballad full of heart and soul, dating from the Thriller sessions (and mercifully free of the ubiquitous 21st-century R&B).
Of course, if Jackson had been alive and in the mood to make a new album, the evidence of his recent work suggests it would indeed have been stacked with slick 21st-century R&B. But that doesn't mean it would have been any good, if the remarkably thin album opener Hold My Hand, featuring Akon, is any guide. Admittedly, to call this a Michael Jackson song at all is something of a liberty - he sings for the first minute or so before Akon takes over the crooning lead vocal, and it was originally written for Whitney Houston.
And no matter how hard the producers try, they can't hide the fact they're working with such offcuts. 50 Cent might have been contacted for a collaboration before Jackson's death, but his contribution to Monster is hilariously poor, an exercise in space-filling as he inexplicably bangs on about murdering people. Hollywood Tonight is actually quite a lithe, funky pop tune. But there was a reason why it didn't make the Invincible album - it's clearly unfinished. So the result now is a song that loops the verses over and over again, and is padded out by a coda with a nameless lackey whistling the chorus. How inventive.
But that's the posthumous album for you. If it's really necessary to raid the vaults, surely it would be better for everyone concerned to release some of the demos from Jackson's glory years intact. At least that way there would be some insight into what made this unique character tick. Michael is - literally - processed pop, and all the more distasteful for it.
Other notable posthumous album releases
Otis Redding - The Dock of the Bay
As with this Michael Jacksonalbum, posthumous releases can be mired in controversy. But not this 1968 collection of songs, the first of four albums to be released after Redding’s tragic death, which features the sublime single, ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay’.
Eva Cassidy - Songbird
Cassidy, like many greatly admired artists before her, never lived to see the reaction her music would impart on hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. The album was released two years after the American folk singer died from cancer, going on to hit the number-one spots on both the UK and US music charts.
Elliott Smith - From A Basement on the Hill
This critically acclaimed album was incomplete at the time of Smith’s death, in 2003, but was eventually released with the help of his ex-girlfriend and former producer. Smith supposedly recorded over 30 songs for the album - which he had intended to be released on two CD’s - but thanks to a contractual obligation with the label, DreamWorks, only 15 would make the final cut.