Michael is a strange creature; an album comprising of cast-offs from previous recordings, mixed with a handful of songs Jackson had intended for next his big release. It’s impossible to know what state these songs were really left in; as usual, a swirling mass of media reports on the subject utterly contradict each other. And if some people are to be believed, his own mother included, Michael isn’t even singing on some tracks; rather, an impersonator is doing a nifty job of covering for the real MJ. But since we just don’t know, it would be unfair to judge the album on these grounds, so I’ll stick with appraising its musical merit.
The album is a real mixed bag. Three tracks in particular stand out. ‘(I Like) The Way You Love Me’ is by far and away the best track on the album. The piano melody is simply fantastic, infectiously cheerful, and this track surely belongs on any best-of compilation in the future (such a release also an unnecessary certainty). Lead single ‘Hold My Hand’ is a safe bet: it’s a typical, solid, upbeat Michael Jackson melody, with recourse to dependable romantic imagery. The producers were clearly a bit over-keen on looping Michael’s trademark ‘Yeeeah’s and ‘Oooh’s, but it is otherwise a superior track. ‘Hollywood Tonight’ is classic Michael Jackson, with memorable lyrics, a good beat and even a monologue thrown in for good measure (sadly, delivered by a voice noticeably less cool than Vincent Price’s).
‘Monster’ sounds like MJ trying to rip ‘Thriller’ off, albeit much less successfully, and with the entirely superfluous addition of 50 Cent. I have similar sentiments for ‘Breaking News’, which very much treads the same ground as angry MJ on ‘Leave me Alone’. ‘Behind the Mask’ sounds like it may have been from Bad – and it’s a shame it wasn’t on there in the first place. Lenny Kravitz collaborates on ‘(I Can’t Make It) Another Day’ – a track that, surprisingly, could have been pulled from the title sequences of a modern-day Bond film. Unfortunately, it is so incredibly repetitious, my mind drifts off pretty quickly each time I listen to it. Of his quieter songs, ‘Best of Joy’ is the finest. It’s a very sweet tune, although Michael’s voice does go uncomfortably high. ‘Keep Your Head Up’ and ‘Much Too Soon’ are both rather schmaltzy, unappealing affairs, and none too memorable.
Essentially, this is nowhere near as good as Jackson is capable of. What with his reputation as a stringent perfectionist, it is unlikely this album would have seen the light of day if he were still around to hold the reigns of his career. Michael gives us three classic MJ tracks, a handful of tracks that aren’t quite good enough to be singles, and three forgettable misfires. We can at least be sure that this isn’t the last we have heard of Michael; Sony have signed a deal to release up to nine more albums of unreleased material or new compilations of released work over the next six years.