Michael Jackson ‘Michael’ – Review

7 Jan

The first words that you hear on ‘Micheal’ are ‘Akon and MJ’ and they aren’t sung by Michael Jackson. Akon is a nobody, an also-ran American R&B artist who has released (As far as I can remember) only one decent single in his career. ‘Michael’ is meant to be a celebration of the King of pop, so why oh why does it open with a vanity track predominantly sung by a complete and utter tool? This dumb move just about sums up the way ‘Michael’ has been treated by the record label; THEY obviously thought it was a genius idea to open with this middle of the road ballad, THEY obviously thought Akon is the kind of cutting edge artist Michael was right to work with – in other words THEY are clueless.

But then so was Michael Jackson – as clueless in the last 25 years of his life as he was unnaturally fully aware in the first 25. In the mysterious period between ‘Thriller’ and ‘Bad’ the old (black) Michael disappeared and a new (white) Michael took his place, this Michael still had more than his fair share of genius moments but they came when he stopped thinking, when he let his natural talents shine through his voice and feet. When he DID think, he over thought and his grip on reality was so loose that he ended up making some terrible decisions. The results of which continue to frustrate, captivate, annoy and delight on ‘Michael’, a collection of songs he was working on in the years before his death.

Like much of Michael’s latter work, this album is always a fascinating listen and even when it is fails it fails in a unique and brilliant way. The man’s eccentricities were always on public display and that is true here, take for example how out of touch with reality he sounds on ‘Keep Your Head Up’ in which Michael describes a woman who works in a restaurant, ‘wasting her life away’, as if working as a waitress must be the most horrible and degrading thing in the world – and to him that’s how it must have seemed, after all he never had a ‘proper’ job in his life. So here he is telling the woman to ‘keep her head up’, in 4 minutes of overblown extravagance (choirs, strings, clapping – the lot), because the poor old woman works in a restaurant!

‘Breaking News’ is just as terrible now as it was when I first heard it but nowhere else will you hear a song like this, a song in which the singer blasts the tabloids, refers to himself in the third person, and repeats the line ‘why is it strange that I would fall in love?’. Who else could get away with singing this stuff, and even if on this occasion he can’t pull it off, watching him try is a lot of fun.

50 Cent pops up for an exhilarating cameo on Monster (just because he can) and Lenny Kravitz (remember him) wrote and produced ‘I Can’t Make It Another Day’ which is pretty strange, and it doesn’t work at all. However the fact is that although these bizarre moments are in some ways terrible they are also the most interesting parts of the album and it’s a massive shame that there aren’t more like them. unfortunately the rest of these songs (with two notable exceptions) are decent, but kind of average ballads that failed to make a massive impression on me. And unfortunately they have been horribly, horribly overproduced.

‘Behind the Mask’ best highlights just how out of touch these producers are with pop music in 2011. The song was originally recorded during the ‘Thriller’ sessions but in the end it was given to a group called ‘Yellow Magic Orchestra’ who had a hit with it. This is the first time Michael’s version of ‘Behind the Mask’ has been heard and only the vocals remain as the song has been given a 21st century update. But ironically, and sadly, the new version sounds far more dated than the Yellow Magic Orchestra original – that version made great use of a vocoder (an instrument very much back in vogue) and typically 1980’s synths, a sound which is also very much back in style thanks to the likes of La Roux, Lady Ga Ga and Passion Pit. The new version almost entirely gets rid of these elements (and therefore the song’s personality) so that it now just sounds like a late 90’s R&B song. Admittedly it’s still a really catchy track that brilliantly showcases Jackson’s vocals, but it could have been so much more.

Left to his own devices Michael Jackson was a stunning writer and producer in his own right, one of the great mysteries to me is why he wasn’t trusted (or confident) enough to work alone more often. The highlights of his recent career are the songs he wrote and produced himself (speechless from Invincible springs to mind) and apart from ‘Behind the mask’ the other major highlight here is Here ‘Much Too Soon’ which is also a solely self penned number. Stripped of the bombast, hype and hideous attempts to be contemporary that blight the rest of the record, ‘Much Too Soon’ is a stunningly intimate ballad in which Michael is accompanied by an acoustic guitar and harmonica. This kind of simplicity is almost non existent on every other studio album from ‘Bad’ onwards and it instantly ranks as one of my favourite Jackson songs which is saying something.

It’s hard for me to know how to Rate ‘Michael’ – on one hand I feel like giving it zero as a comment on how short sighted, clueless and heartless the producers and record company have been in putting it together. On the other hand, as a huge MJ fan, I feel like giving it ten as there are two (maybe three) songs on here that are pure, classic, MJ gold and i have had a great time listening to it. Maybe if I was rationale I would give it 5 because it’s certainly a bumpy and uneven ride with peaks and valleys. At the end of the day ‘Michael’ is both a hollywood blockbuster and a car crash you can’t take your eyes off. It’s a brilliant example of  a major label at their most ruthless and unartistic, and a genius being manipulated like a puppet. And yes, he was still a genius till the end and there is proof enough on ‘Michael’. It may be far from perfect but I’d rather have him like this than not at all.



One Response to “Michael Jackson ‘Michael’ – Review”

  1. ill nino January 8, 2011 at 10:40 am #

    Music has a mystic manner of being able to take you instantly back to a specific place and time in your past
    I will definitely vote mj, for one reason…. he AWESOME

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