There’s alot of controversy surrounding this album with some of Michael Jackson’s family and fans saying that what we are hearing on some of the songs is not actually Michael Jackson but an impersonator. However, as a reviewer it’s my duty to try to not let any of my personal opinion on that bias my review and so I’m going to try to judge this on the music itself.
However, I will say that because many of the vocals were rough cuts and unfinished tracks, they are heavily processed and I think most fans would be able to tell that with some of the falsetto and vibrato you hear coming from Michael. And as many would assume with posthumous albums, the creator’s spirit is missing and that’s what we get on the majority of ‘Michael’. Most of these songs were left in the cutting room and Michael didn’t want to them to be released to begin with.
However with that said, it surprisingly isn’t the complete train wreck you thought it would be when you first looked at the track list and saw Akon and 50 Cent. There are a couple of good songs here, especially by contemporary R&B standards but ultimately, they are forgettable songs that really wouldn’t have hurt if we never heard them. ‘Michael’ is no ‘Thriller’ you can be sure of that.
Monster has a big sound to it and you can almost see the King of Pop doing his trademark crotch grabs until 50 Cent comes in with a really out of place verse. (I Can’t Make It) Another Day features Lenny Kravitz in a soul-less song with a rock chorus. Best of Joy is a song that you kind of have to shrug at. While not terrible, it really doesn’t do anything for me either.
The album’s clear sore spot is Breaking News where MJ defends himself from the media while incessantly referring to himself in third person. Just to note, this was the initial song where people started questioning the authenticity of the songs but as I said, I’m going to try to stay away from that topic. Whether this song is really Michael or an impersonator is irrelevant. The song is a terrible mess that I don’t think Michael would ever have wanted to be released.
There are a couple of saving graces here however. Hollywood Tonight has a fun up-tempo bounce to it with a bassline reminiscent of Bad although it has a repetitive chorus. Keep Your Head Up is a great mushy slow-tempo love ballad though it features some of that shaky vibrato over-processing that I mentioned earlier. (I Like) The Way You Love Me is another love song with a more upbeat vibe. It also features an awesome intro with Michael laying out the melody of the song by singing the opening lines and beat-boxing the tempo over the phone. This lets us know that Michael was at least a part of the creative process behind these songs. Both of these songs are full of heart with a very contemporary pop sound. With MJ always moving forward, these are the types of songs I would imagine him making at this point in his career if he were still with us.
The album closes with two of the best songs on ‘Michael’. Behind the Mask has a definite Michael sound and would not sound too out of place on ‘Invincible’. It has Michael howling over a funky bassline with his signature “eeheehee”s. The vocals here were supposedly outtakes from the ‘Thriller’ sessions. It is definitely the highlight of the album.
The album then appropriately closes with Much Too Soon, an emotional, heart-felt song with Michael giving probably his best vocal performance on the album with little noticeable processing. It’s also his most clear performance because the music he is singing over is not the ear filling pop of the rest of the album but rather solemn strings, an acoustic guitar and a mellow accordion. This song really does pull at the heart strings if you are a fan of Michael Jackson and reminds us of how much he has impacted the face of today’s music.
Now don’t get me wrong. This is not a groundbreaking album by any means. It definitely is no ‘Thriller’ and really isn’t even an ‘Invincible’. It’s mostly a cut and paste job put together carelessly by people who seem to be wanting to ruin his legacy by releasing songs he wouldn’t have necessarily wanted to be heard.
But honestly, this really isn’t as bad as it could have been. A few good, yet forgettable songs in comparison to the rest of his catalog, saves this album from becoming a complete train wreck. However with that said, Sony signed a $270 million deal that entitles them to ten albums in a seven year period from the King of Pop and if this is the best they have to offer, MJ’s legacy is in for a world of hurt in the coming years.
Michael was released on December 10th, 2010