New Michael Jackson album has its moments, but lacks his distinctive musical judgment
"Xscape" (Epic), the second posthumous Michael Jackson album, sounds like a lovely idea.
Epic's chairman and CEO L.A. Reid and his team went through Jackson's vault of unreleased recordings and assembled a team of today's hottest producers -- including Timbaland, Rodney Jerkins, Stargate and J-Roc -- to make them contemporary.
Unfortunately, the great idea of "Xscape," which arrives in stores Tuesday, sounds better on paper.
Each of the eight songs has some sort of flaw that makes it clear why Jackson didn't release it. (The deluxe edition features the eight tracks and their original demo versions.) After all, the King of Pop had legendary ears for great music.
The most successful song is the first single "Love Never Felt So Good," co-written by Jackson and Paul Anka in 1983, in the midst of the success of "Thriller," that didn't make the cut for "Bad." It's a sleek slice of disco-influenced pop that sounds good, but lacks any of the distinctive qualities that made "The Way You Make Me Feel" or even "Dirty Diana" from that period unforgettable. "Love Never Felt So Good," even with the version featuring Justin Timberlake on a verse, sounds good, but forgettable. As promising as the title track sounds musically, Jackson's vocals are almost ragged on the verses, a sad reminder that the mythical King of Pop was indeed human.
The idea that this is the best Reid could find in the vaults is what makes "Xscape" so disappointing. Jackson, like any great artist, experimented, but so much of what is here are experiments that he knew should remain private. "A Place With No Name," a reworking of America's "A Horse With No Name" that samples the original, is interesting, but ultimately flat.
"Blue Gangsta" is the germ of a song spun into completion by someone else. And "Do You Know Where Your Children Are," about sexually abused kids, is an outright bad song idea for Jackson.
Of course, the world wants more music from Jackson. Of course, music industry folks want to give it to them. The problem is that the magic that made "Off the Wall," "Thriller" and "Bad" perhaps the most memorable album trilogy ever died with Jackson in 2009. It would be kinder to let him rest in peace.