If you’ve been searching around on The Internetz lately, the reaction to the release of a second posthumous album with songs from Michael Jackson, “Xscape,” has been palpable. It’s almost certain that most of these songs would never have seen the light of day had MJ still been alive; the album is actually an amalgamation of B-sides, instrumentals and vocal clips stretching all the way back to 1979(!). While the “Frankenstein-ing” of Jackson’s music and emotional content is not the subject of this article, it’s definitely something that should be touched upon.
A good way to look at the treatment of this album is in comparison to the first posthumous album done for Jackson, “Michael.” While we could dive into a discussion of whether or not “Xscape” was done with due respect to Jackson’s legacy, “Michael” definitely doesn’t deserve the same discussion. One listen and it’s obvious the album was quickly slapped together and put out to capitalize on the King of Pop’s death. Even more concerning are the questionable (see: fake) vocals on several tracks from “Michael.” Ryan Tedder and several other producers who worked on the album defend that it is Jackson’s voice, however, one quick listen to “Breaking News” or “Keep Your Head Up” and it’s clear that whether it’s Michael or not singing, the vocals were not fit for an album, especially an MJ release. “Xscape” seems like an honest attempt to bring some of Michael’s best “outtakes” back for the listener to enjoy. To be fair, Jackson’s “outtakes” could be career makers for many other artists.
The best way to enjoy this album is to buy the Deluxe version of the release, which includes the original tracks as originally intended. It’s a great way to see what Timberland, Reid, Darkchild, and other producers brought to the table on the album.
In terms of production quality, there’s not much to complain about. It’s incredible to think that with a some talented polish, tracks spanning across forty years (1970s to the 90s) of Jackson’s career can sound completely relevant, cohesive, and fresh today. The sound seems to strive for the “Dangerous” or “HIStory” era of Jackson, but done in a more contemporary light. Standout tracks include, “Love Never Felt So Good”, “Chicago,” “Loving You,” “Slave to the Rhythm,” and the title track, “Xscape.” Certain songs sound – dare I say – improved, such as “Slave to the Rhythm,” where Jackson’s vocal snaps and dance-vibe song qualities are enhanced and given a beautiful compressed, pop sheen. Some tracks sound like they could’ve been completely left alone upon listening to their original counterparts, such as “Loving You,” however, it is quite clear why they reworked it — the “1987″ feel of the original track lacks cohesiveness with the feel developed for the Xscape album. Most of the time both the updated and original version sound great. You’ll probably listen to both depending on how upbeat or nostalgic you’re feeling.
The album is definitely worth at least a listen if you’re a fan of pop music or Michael Jackson. We can’t bring Michael back from the dead, but with Xscape, I’m not that upset that they tried.