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Music Review: Michael Jackson – Michael

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An album that sounds at the same time poignantly familiar and curiously new, Michael is the first posthumous album to be released by the estate of the King of Pop. Just like with every great musical artist – Tupac and Elvis being the two that come immediately to mind – there are bound to be hot debates surrounding the release of this album, all the more because some of the songs it features lack the polish typical of a Michael Jackson track, which just might infuriate his fans all the more.

Featuring ten new songs – one of which had a working version previously leaked almost two years ago, i.e. the Akon collaboration “Hold my Hand” – the album hits stores on Tuesday, 14 December 2010, just in time for the holiday season.

As a longtime Michael Jackson fan, I honestly don’t know what to think. On the one hand, these are Michael Jackson songs, and I couldn’t wait to hear them; even if they were finished by others, they were each in some stage of production when Michael Jackson died; they were each one of his “babies.” On the other hand, there is the very well known fact that Michael Jackson was a perfectionist, which raises the obvious question: can an album he didn’t micro-manage until the release date be called a real Michael Jackson album? Or is this album more like the movie This Is It, i.e. a hint of what could have been?

If this is the case, the hint is strong that this could have been an incredible album. And, as it stands, it’s pretty amazing already. It includes some of Michael’s best sounds, particularly those on his Dangerous album; the soaring choir in “Keep Your Head Up” is reminiscent of “Keep the Faith” and “Will You Be There.” Another sound that makes a comeback of sorts is from his song “Ben,” here reprised in the opening notes to the song “Much Too Soon.”

The mixture of themes the songs touch upon is also very recognizable. Some of the songs are pure joy – obviously enough, in the song “Best of Joy” – while others are pure love and hope: the abovementioned “Keep Your Head Up” is a hug to those feeling hopeless while “(I Like) The Way You Love Me” is a lover’s joyful laugh on a beautiful sunny day. In sharp contrast, some are pure anger, a mixture of emotions typical of the life of Michael Jackson; “Monster,” featuring 50 Cent, is reminiscent of “Why You Wanna Trip on Me,” while “Breaking News” is yet another song angrily lashing out at the tabloids that helped make him so famous and, later, infamous.

Speaking of “Breaking News,” this is a song that confuses me thoroughly. First off is the voice: at times it sounds like Michael Jackson; at other times, it sounds like someone imitating him, and at other times, it doesn’t sound like him at all. Is it because the song wasn’t, as mentioned previously, polished to the high degree of perfection we are used to?

Just like I was thoroughly puzzled that “Breaking News” is the song the estate chose to promote on their website a couple of weeks ago, I am thoroughly puzzled that they chose “Hold My Hand” as the album’s first song. While sweet in itself, the song sounds like an Akon song featuring Michael Jackson. And it’s not just that; this version is nowhere as good as the one that was leaked out about two years ago. In short, “Hold my Hand” is a great song that would be a gem in Akon’s crown, but doesn’t befit the position of opening song of this album.

Some of the songs seem like explorations of sorts, as if Michael Jackson was furthering his relationship with music to explore new grounds. “Hollywood Tonight,” the second song on the album, contains a little bit of everything: from the choir starting things off to the electrobeat slightly reminiscent of “Beat it” that then picks it up – mixed with the sounds of violins, at that. It’s an upbeat song about taking a chance on one’s dreams. Similarly, “Behind the Mask” begins with saxophone before breaking into the electrobeat typical of Jackson’s Bad and Dangerous days.

I found the song “Monster” quite disappointing. Not only does it lackthe polish typical of Michael Jackson, but 50 Cent’s rap is definitely nowhere near the top of his game. Something tells me that Michael Jackson would have asked him to rewrite the entire thing, challenging him to return to or even surpass that top. Now, wouldn’t that have been a song worthy of a Michael Jackson album?

There is definitely a certain sweetness present throughout the album, which rings a big chord in my heart. I have, after all, always preferred Michael Jackson’s personal songs to his big hits such as “Thriller” and “Billie Jean.” Don’t get me wrong – both of those songs are incredible and are among my all-time favorites. However, the songs “Break of Dawn,” “Butterflies,” “The Lost Children,” and “Whatever Happens,” all from the stupendously under-appreciated album Invincible, are the ones that I turn to. And, thankfully, many of the songs on the album Michael are cut from the same cloth.

In particular, “Much Too Soon” reminds me a lot of the song “The Lost Children,” which is saying a lot, as I am of the opinion that “The Lost Children” is one of the best Michael Jackson songs there is; after all, its music is beautiful, its lyrics are poignant, and the result is the most empathic and loving love song he has written, dedicating it to the children of the world he so desperately wanted to help.

So what’s the verdict? The Michael Jackson fan in me loves this album. “Much Too Soon,” “Keep Your Head Up,” and “(I Like) The Way You Love Me” have already made it, after only a week, onto my list of all-time favourite songs. But the disappointment of “Hold My Hand” and “Monster” wakens the cynic in me, convincing me that this album is only for the estate to make as much money out of his demise as possible, and keeps me from fully appreciating what is definitely an amazing album.

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    Songs

    Song Writer(s) Notes Ref
    “A Baby Smiles”* Michael Jackson
    Lyrics to the song were featured as a poem titled “When a Baby Smiles” in the 1992 book Dancing the Dream
    [11]
    “A Place With No Name” Unknown
    Heavily resembles America’s “A Horse with No Name”
    Snippet leaked onto the Internet in 2009
    [6]
    “A Pretty Face Is” Stevie Wonder
    Written c. 1974
    The song was originally intended for The Jackson 5 or as a duet between Wonder and Jackson; the two reportedly recorded the song for Wonder’s 1987 Characters album.
    [11]
    “Al Capone”* Michael Jackson
    Failed to make the Bad album
    A demo version is known to exist
    Evolved into “Smooth Criminal”
    [11]
    “Angel” Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds
    Recorded by Jackson around 1988
    Had been scheduled to feature on a shelved greatest hits compilation
    [11]
    “Attitude”‡ Michael Jackson
    Kathy Wakefield
    Michel Pierre — [11]
    “Bad Girl”* Michael Jackson — [12]
    “Bassouille” Michael Jackson
    Bruce Swedien
    Written in 1994
    Failed to make the HIStory album
    [12]
    “Be Me 4 a Day”† Michael Jackson
    Gray Calix Days
    Also known as “Be Me for a Day”, “Just for One Day Be Michael”, “Just for a Day”, “Me 4 a Day” and “Be Michael”
    [12]
    “Belong 2″ Michael Jackson
    Teddy Riley
    Written in 1999
    Failed to make the Invincible album
    [12]
    “Blue Gangsta” Michael Jackson
    Alternatively titled “No Friend of Mine”.
    The song is a collaboration with the Fugees.
    [12]
    “Bottle of Smoke” Michael Jackson
    Written and possibly recorded by Jackson in 1989
    Failed to make the Dangerous album
    [12]
    “Buffalo Bill”* Michael Jackson
    First mentioned by manager Frank DiLeo before the release of The Jacksons’ Victory album in 1984
    Failed to make the Bad album
    [12]
    “California Grass”* Michael Jackson — [13]
    “Carousel” Michael Sembello
    D. Freeman
    Also known as Circus Girl
    Failed to make the Thriller album
    Included on the Thriller 2001 special edition.
    [14]
    “Chicago 1945″* Michael Jackson
    Steve Porcaro
    Evolved into “Smooth Criminal”
    [13]
    “Colour of My Soul” Unknown
    Known to have been recorded by Jackson, though the date is uncertain
    [13]
    “Crack Kills”* Michael Jackson
    Planned to have been recorded with rappers Run-D.M.C. for Jackson’s Bad album, but was shelved due to the group’s negative attitude toward the singer
    [13]
    “Cry”* Michael Jackson
    Not to be confused with Cry (2001), a song from Jackson’s 2001 album Invincible
    [13]
    “Do You Know Where Your Children Are”* Michael Jackson — [15]
    “D.I.E” Michael Jackson
    Recorded with the band Slipknot in 2009
    [15]
    “Do You Love Me” Michael Jackson
    Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds
    Completed by Jackson and Edmonds in 1998
    Was to feature on a scheduled but shelved Jackson album in 1999
    [15]
    “Do You Want Me” Sisqó
    Dru Hill
    Written in 1999
    Failed to make the Invincible album
    [15]
    “Doing Dirty” Michael Jackson
    Marlon Jackson
    Written around 1988–1990 for a shelved greatest hits album
    [15]
    “Don’t Be Messin’ Around” Michael Jackson
    Features Jackson playing the piano.
    Will be Released on The Bad 25 Album.
    Leaked Online on May 2012.
    [16]
    “Dreams”† Michael Jackson — [15]
    “Eaten Alive” Michael Jackson
    Maurice Gibb
    Barry Gibb
    Original version of the song written by the Gibb brothers, but was reworked by Jackson who was granted co-writer credits
    A demo version was recorded by Jackson but remains unreleased.
    Later recorded by Diana Ross and released on the eponymous album in 1985.
    [17]
    “Ekam Satyam (The One Truth)” A.R. Rahman
    A.R. Parthasarathi
    Kanika Myer Bharat
    Recorded as a duet in 1999 by Jackson (singing in English) and Rahman (singing in Sanskrit)
    Failed to make the Invincible album
    [17]
    “Elizabeth, I Love You” Michael Jackson
    Written and performed by Jackson as a tribute to his friend Elizabeth Taylor in 1997
    No official release, though bootleg recordings taken from the 1997 performance exist
    [17]
    “Face” Unknown
    Failed to make the HIStory album
    [18]
    “Fanfare Transition”(1992) Michael Jackson
    Written in 1992
    Known alternatively as “Fanfare 1992″
    [18]
    “Fantasy”* Michael Jackson
    Jermaine Jackson — [18]
    “Far, Far Away”* Michael Jackson — [18]
    “Fear” Michael Jackson
    Written c. 1993
    Failed to make the HIStory album
    Also known as “Suffocation”
    [18]
    “Free”* Michael Jackson — [18]
    “From the Bottom of My Heart” Michael Jackson
    Written in 2005
    Was scheduled to be released as a charity recording for the victims of Hurricane Katrina
    [18]
    “Get Around”* Michael Jackson
    A version crediting Rodney Jerkins, Fred Jerkins III and LaShawn Daniels was considered for the Invincible album, but failed to make the final tracklisting.
    [19]
    “Goin’ To Rio”* Michael Jackson
    Carole Bayer Sager
    Written in 1976
    Failed to make the Off the Wall album
    [19]
    “Got to Find a Way Somehow”(1984) Michael Jackson
    Written in 1979
    [19]
    “Groove of Midnight” Rod Temperton
    Written around the Bad era
    A demo by Jackson surfaced on the internet in 2003.
    [19]
    “He Who Makes The Sky Grey” Jermaine Jackson
    Sheik Abdullah of Bahrain
    Featured vocals by Jackson
    [20]
    “Higher Ground” Stevie Wonder
    A Stevie Wonder song that musician Donny Osmond confirmed he had been working with Jackson on in a 2003 television interview
    [20]
    “Holiday Inn”(1984) Michael Jackson
    Written in 1976
    [20]
    “Hot Fever”(1985) Michael Jackson
    Written in 1985
    Evolved into “The Way You Make Me Feel”
    [20]
    “Hot Street” Rod Temperton
    Failed to make the Thriller album as Temperton and Quincy Jones felt that the song was too weak for inclusion
    [20]
    “I Can’t Get You Off My Mind” Michael Jackson
    Jackson worked on the song in the early 1970s.
    A demo version/mono acetate is known to exist
    [21]
    “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” Michael Jackson
    Written c. 2001
    Failed to make the Invincible album
    [21]
    “I Forgive You”* Michael Jackson — [21]
    “I Have This Love of Me”* Michael Jackson — [21]
    “If You Don’t Love Me” Michael Jackson
    Had been scheduled for release on a shelved special edition of the Dangerous album
    Leaked online in 2009.
    [21]
    “In the Valley”* Michael Jackson — [21]
    “Iowa” Michael Jackson
    Classical piece confirmed by sister Janet Jackson in a 1993 magazine interview
    [21]
    “Kentucky”* Michael Jackson
    Written in the mid-1970s
    [22]
    “Kreeton Overture”(1984) Michael Jackson
    Jai Winding
    Marty Paich
    Patrick Leonard
    Written in 1984 for the opening of The Jacksons’ Victory Tour
    [22]
    “Little Girls”* Michael Jackson — [23]
    “Llama Lola”* Michael Jackson — [23]
    “Lonely Bird”* Michael Jackson — [23]
    “Lonely Man”* Michael Jackson — [23]
    “Love Never Felt So Good” Michael Jackson
    Kathy Wakefield
    Paul Anka
    Written in 1983
    Demo version leaked onto the internet in 2006
    Recorded by Johnny Mathis and released on his 1984 album “A Special Part of Me”.[24]
    [23]
    “Lucy Is in Love With Linus”* Michael Jackson — [23]
    “Make a Wish”* Michael Jackson — [25]
    “Make or Break”* Michael Jackson
    John Barnes — [25]
    “Maybe We Can Do It” Michael Jackson
    Rodney Jerkins
    Sean Combs
    Features Jackson and Sean Combs
    Failed to make the Invincible album
    [25]
    “Men in Black” Michael Jackson
    Had been scheduled for release on a shelved 1990 greatest hits collection
    [25]
    “Michael McKellar”* Michael Jackson — [25]
    “MJ Melody”(1984) Michael Jackson
    Written in 1982
    [25]
    “Neverland Landing”* Michael Jackson — [26]
    “Nightline/Nite-line” Glen Ballard
    Written c. 1982
    Failed to make the Thriller album
    [26]
    “Nymphette Lover”(1984) Michael Jackson
    Written in 1981
    [26]
    “Ode to Sorrow”(1984) Michael Jackson
    Written in 1977
    [27]
    “On My Anger” Michael Jackson
    Teddy Riley
    Written in 1999
    Failed to make the Invincible album
    [27]
    “People Have To Make Some Sort of Joke”* Michael Jackson — [28]
    “Peter Pan” Michael Jackson
    Song mentioned by Jackson on the 1993 CD The Michael Jackson Interview
    [28]
    “Pressure” Rodney Jerkins
    Fred Jerkins III
    Harvey Mason
    LaShawn Daniels
    Failed to make the Invincible album
    [28]
    “Price of Fame” Unknown
    Failed to make the Bad album
    Had been scheduled as the theme for a Pepsi commercial starring Jackson, but was replaced by “Bad”
    [28]
    “Pyramid Girl” Michael Jackson
    Written c. 1986 for Jackson’s Victory tour
    Evolved into Liberian Girl
    “Red Eye”* Michael Jackson — [29]
    “Rolling the Dice”* Rod Temperton
    Jackson worked on the song with Temperton and Quincy Jones during the Thriller recording sessions.
    [29]
    “Satisfy” Terry Lewis
    James Harris III
    Mariah Carey song featuring Jackson on backing vocals
    Failed to make the 2002 Charmbracelet album
    [30]
    “Saved By the Bell”* Michael Jackson
    Jermaine Jackson — [30]
    “Seduction” Michael Jackson
    Shelby Lee Myrick III
    Failed to make the Invincible album
    [30]
    “Serious Effect” Michael Jackson
    Teddy Riley
    Features rap by LL Cool J
    Had been scheduled for release on a shelved special edition of the Dangerous album
    Leaked onto the Internet in 2002
    Solo demo version by Jackson known to exist
    [30]
    “Seven Digits” Michael Jackson
    Bryan Loren
    Failed to make the Dangerous album
    [30]
    “She Got It” Unknown
    Had been scheduled for release on a shelved special edition of the Dangerous album
    Snippets leaked onto the internet in 2005, with the full version leaking in 2008.
    [30]
    “She’s Not a Girl”* Michael Jackson
    Jermaine Jackson — [30]
    “She’s Trouble” Sue Shifrin
    Bill Livsey
    Terry Britten
    Failed to make the Thriller album
    Bootleg version known to exist
    Also known as “Trouble”
    [30]
    “Siegfried & Roy”(1990) Michael Jackson
    Written in 1989 for illusionists Siegfried & Roy
    Two versions—vocal and instrumental—registered with the United States Copyright Office
    Thought to be an early version of “Mind Is The Magic”
    [30]
    “Sister Sue”* Michael Jackson — [30]
    “Slapstick” Rod Temperton
    Worked on by Jackson during the Thriller recording sessions
    The song is an early demo version of “Hot Street”
    [30]
    “Soldier’s Entrance” Michael Jackson
    Worked on by Jackson in 1999 with a view to have it featured on the Invincible album
    [30]
    “Somewhere in Time”(1984) Michael Jackson
    Written in 1980
    [30]
    “Stand Tall”(1985) Michael Jackson
    Written in 1982
    [30]
    “Starlight”* Rod Temperton
    Jackson worked on the song during the Thriller recording sessions. A demo version is known to exist.
    Referred to by Jackson as “Starlight Sun” during his 1993 deposition; he sang, “Starlight … Starlight Sun … Gimme some starlight, for a new day has begun”
    Evolved into “Thriller”
    [30]
    “State of Shock” Michael Jackson
    Randy Hansen
    One of three songs Jackson worked on with Queen’s Freddie Mercury in 1983
    Demo version by Mercury and Jackson was leaked onto the Internet in 2002, but remains officially unreleased
    Different version later released on Victory, with Mick Jagger
    [30]
    “Stay” Michael Jackson
    Bryan Loren
    Written c. 1988
    [30]
    “Stop the War” Michael Jackson
    Carole Bayer Sager
    Written c. 1999
    [30]
    “Susie”(1984) Michael Jackson
    Written in 1978
    [30]
    “Summers in Gloucestershire”(1994) Michael Jackson
    Recorded during HIStory sessions
    A fake snippet leaked, the snippet actually being from a demo of “Hollywood Tonight”
    The song is a tale of nostalgia
    [30]
    “Thank Heaven”(1998) Michael Jackson
    Written in 1998
    [31]
    “Thank You For Life”*(1984) Michael Jackson
    Written c. 1976
    [31]
    “That”(1998) Michael Jackson — [31]
    “That Kind of Lover” Michael Jackson
    Ray Ruffin
    Written c. 2001
    Failed to make the Invincible album
    [31]
    “The Children’s Hour”* Michael Jackson — [13]
    “The Gloved One” Sisqó
    Written c. 2001
    Failed to make the Invincible album
    [19]
    “The Nightmare of Edgar Alan Poe” Michael Jackson
    Walter Afanasieff
    Written c. 2000
    Had been scheduled to feature in the shelved independently financed film The Nightmare of Edgar Alan Poe, which Jackson was slated to appear in
    Alternatively titled “Edgar Alan Poe”
    [26]
    “The Pain” Shawn Stockman
    Jay Harvey Mason
    Rodney Jerkins
    Failed to make the Invincible album
    [32]
    “The Sky is the Limit”* Michael Jackson — [30]
    “The Toy”(1981) Michael Jackson
    Written in 1981 for a Richard Pryor movie
    [31]
    “There Must Be More To Life Than This” Freddie Mercury
    One of three songs Jackson worked on with Queen’s Freddie Mercury in 1983
    The pair recorded two versions:
    First version leaked onto the internet in 2002, and features Mercury talking about the song and Jackson singing solo to a piano accompaniment
    Second version features both Jackson and Mercury singing
    [31]
    “This Is It”(1984) Michael Jackson
    Written in 1980
    Not to be confused with “This Is It”, a song featured on the 2009 compilation album This Is It
    [31]
    “This Is Our Time” Michael Jackson
    Lauryn Hill
    David Foster
    Failed to make the Invincible album
    Despite rumours to the contrary, the song was not recorded as a duet with Hill.
    [31]
    “Throwin’ Your Life Away”(1988) Michael Jackson
    Written in 1988
    [31]
    “To Satisfy You” Michael Jackson
    Bryan Loren
    Written during the Dangerous recording sessions, but Jackson did not like it and gave it to Loren for his 1992 album Music From the New World
    Solo recording by Jackson known to exist
    [31]
    “Tomboy”*(1985) Michael Jackson
    Written in 1985
    Failed to make the Bad album
    Mistakenly believed by some fans to have been written by Quincy Jones
    [31]
    “Tragedy of a Cheer-leader”* Michael Jackson — [31]
    “Tubeway” Michael Jackson
    Written c. 1999
    Failed to make the Invincible album
    [31]
    “Turning Me Off”* Michael Jackson — [31]
    “Under Your Skin”(1984) Michael Jackson
    Written in 1979
    [33]
    “Unknown”† Michael Jackson
    It is unclear whether the song is titled “Unknown” or the song title is unknown.
    [33]
    “Vibrationist” Michael Jackson
    Teddy Riley
    Written c. 1999
    Failed to make the Invincible album
    [34]
    “Victory” Michael Jackson
    Freddie Mercury
    One of three songs Jackson worked on with Queen’s Freddie Mercury in 1983
    Demo version known to exist
    [34]
    “We Be Ballin” Michael Jackson
    }
    Written c. 1998, featured Ice Cube and Shaquille O’Neal, 3 different versions have been leaked
    To be released in 1998 as the theme song for the NBA
    [34]
    “We Are the Ones”(1984) Michael Jackson
    Written in 1978
    [35]
    “What a Lonely Way to Go”* Michael Jackson
    Written in 1975
    [35]
    “What About Us” Michael Jackson
    Written originally for the Dangerous album
    Demos leaked onto the Internet in 2003
    Evolved into “Earth Song”
    [35]
    “What You Do to Me”(1984) Michael Jackson
    Written in 1985
    First registered with the United States Copyright Office in 1985
    Failed to make the Bad album
    Re-registered with the United States Copyright Office in 1998, having possibly been re-written
    Failed to make the Invincible album
    [35]
    “What’s a Guy Gotta Do” Pharrell Williams
    Written in 2000
    Failed to make the Invincible album
    [35]
    “What’s It Gonna Be”† Michael Jackson
    The song is not to be confused with “What’s It Gonna Be?!”, recorded by Jackson’s sister Janet and Busta Rhymes
    [35]
    “What’s Your Life”* Michael Jackson
    Jermaine Jackson — [35]
    “Who Do You Know”* Michael Jackson
    Written c. 1981
    Failed to make the Thriller album
    [35]
    “Who Is the Girl With Her Hair Down”* Michael Jackson — [35]
    “Why Can’t I Be”(1984) Michael Jackson
    Written in 1980
    [35]
    “Why Shy”* Michael Jackson — [35]
    “Xscape” Unknown
    Recorded during the Invincible recording sessions
    Leaked onto the internet in 2002, resulting in Jackson’s attorneys threatening legal action against sites that did not remove download access to the track
    Also known as “Xcape” or “Escape”
    [36]
    “You Ain’t Gonna Change Nothin'”*(1984) Michael Jackson
    Written in 1975
    [37]
    “You Are a Liar”* Michael Jackson
    Failed to make the Invincible album
    Also known as “You’re a Liar”
    [37]
    “You Are So Beautiful” Michael Jackson
    Song Jackson began writing during his 2005 child sexual abuse trial, as a thank you to his fans for their ongoing support
    [37]
    “You Told Me Your Lovin'”(1984) Michael Jackson
    Written in 1979
    A second unreleased version exists, with words and music by Jackson’s brother Randy.
    [37]
    “You’re Supposed to Keep Your Love For Me” Stevie Wonder
    Originally recorded in 1975 by Jermaine Jackson, with Wonder, Jackie Jackson and Michael on backing vocals
    Re-cut solo version by Jermaine featured on his 1980 Let’s Get Serious album, replacing the original recording featuring brother Michael