Now, 18 months after his death, technology is once more adding to Jackson’s legacy. This album was completed using modern studio techniques to enhance the raw material he left behind. As such, it is something of a mish-mash — with a few moments of magic.
The record features ten previously unreleased tracks dating back to 1982, the year of Thriller. There is a hard-rocking 2001 collaboration with Lenny Kravitz plus a handful of more recent tracks, including one, Best Of Joy, that Jackson had hoped to complete during last year’s planned residency in London.
Can Jacko ever rest in peace? An album of 'new' songs he didn't want released hits the shelves and his family battle over his millions. Two songs here may be familiar: a demo version of one, the soulful ballad (I Like) The Way You Love Me, cropped up six years ago on Jackson’s Ultimate Collection, while Behind The Mask was originally sung by Japanese electro-pop group Yellow Magic Orchestra before being made famous by Eric Clapton in 1987.
Despite fans, colleagues and family members questioning the authenticity of some of the vocals, R&B figurehead Teddy Riley, a Jackson associate since 1991 and producer of three tracks here, downplays such concerns.
He says: ‘I studied everything about him from day one. As the years went by, I witnessed his tones changing. My feeling on the authenticity of the vocals is that they were all done by Michael.’
My hunch is to agree with Riley, although that doesn’t mean the record consistently captures Jackson at his best. Many tracks were recorded with ‘guide’ vocals, where the singer is perfectly in tune without really pushing his voice.
A whiff of over-production also hangs over Michael. On Keep Your Head Up, Jackson’s singing is overshadowed by a choir, lush strings, handclaps and an over-wrought finale straight out of ballads week on The X Factor.
Breaking News is another offender. The funky, mid-tempo arrangement is catchy enough, but it is difficult to discern Jackson’s distinctive tone amid the barrage of backing vocals. When the singer does perform at full throttle, the results are spectacular. Monster, recorded in 2007, finds him hitting the dance floor with an impressive update on the lyrical theme of Thriller.
Squealing ‘He’s a monster, he’s an animal’, the singer actually sounds as if he is enjoying himself. 50 Cent’s rap was added at a later date, but still blends effectively into the mix.
The two songs from the early 1980s also offer snatches of Jackson on top form. Behind The Mask, with new lyrics, is fast and funky. Much Too Soon is beautifully sung. A sweet ballad with strings arranged by Beck’s father, David Campbell, its plaintive, stripped-back tone is reminiscent of Jackson’s early solo single Ben.
This album would have undoubtedly packed more punch had the singer been able to polish up the less engaged vocal performances here, while the fact that these songs span 28 years inevitably leads to a lack of continuity.
Rather than a studio album to rival Thriller, the King Of Pop’s trustees have come up with an intriguing but patchy compilation.