Once a prominent artist dies, there’s a guarantee that the estate or the record company will release unheard songs or rough cuts just to make a few bucks. So no one should’ve been surprised when it was announce Michael Jackson would have a new album this year. Rather than release polished demos as they were, many producers took it upon themselves to update the songs. While their contributions aren’t bad, once you hear the demos you see why they were largely unneeded.
Jackson already had one posthumous album in 2010 that was met with mixed reviews, but this is the superior release. Not every song is notable, but there are enough of them to make this a noteworthy release. The lead single “Love Never Felt so Good” is no doubt best track from the release. Everything about it is a classics Jackson song: it’s catchy, danceable, upbeat, and makes you feel good. If he actually had the chance to finish the song, it would’ve been a hit. Compared with the demo versions there weren’t many drastic changes. The version with Justin Timberlake shakes things up a bit. The music here is very similar to that of “Don’t Stop til You Get Enough” adding a bit of nostalgia to the mix. No matter which version you hear, the song is great and reminds you why Jackson was such a successful artist.
One thing that keeps all the tracks together is Jackson’s fierce and strong vocal delivery. This is easily heard on “Chicago,” a tale about the singer hooking up with a cheating wife. The vocals here are intense and full of the attitude he was known for. You can easily date the song back to the ’90s since one of the lyric reads “She said just to give me a page/59 was the code she gave.” This hints it might’ve been meant for the Dangerous album. A notable difference between the “updated” and demo version is the music. The demo music is a bit softer and slower making Jackson bitter, whereas the music on the other one is heavier and aggressive making him come off as angry. Both of them sound good, but something about the demo feels more genuine.
“Loving You” is another classic Jackson song. The clean, loving vibe of the track is reminiscent of the mellow groove of “Rock With You.” Since it’s such a positive number, you can picture the singer smiling while he’s singing. Even though “A Place With No Name” is one of the weaker tracks, it’s still interesting to hear. In his original demo, he uses the melody and music of America’s “Horse with No Name” to create this song. While the updated version gives it more of its own sound, it’s still interesting to hear Jackson play around with different concepts. “Do You Know Where You’re Children Are?” is a bit heavy handed with its theme of child abuse, but it’s not bad. The music found on the demo version feels more natural to the track versus the reproduced version.
“Slave to the Rhythm” has a dance centric beat makes it more on the catchy side. It’s one of those songs that gets you on your feet and one we would love to see Jackson groove to. “Blue Gangsta” finds Jackson sounding sinister. Again, the music in the demo version sounds better. The newly produced version has booming music more appropriate for a rap song; it sounds like it’s trying way to hard to be relevant and current. There are even moments when the music takes over the vocals. “Xscape” deals with Jackson’s perils of fame and how people won’t leave him alone. Again, there’s a strong vocal delivery that instantly draws you in and though it’s not a stand out song, it still manages to be catchy.
Overall, the album get 8.5/10. It’s not Jackson’s greatest work, but this shows he had some great songs in the mix. Better than his first posthumous release, the record gives you eight satisfying songs that make you want to hear more of his music when its over. My only gripe is how the record company handled it. There is no reason various producers had to come in and “update” these songs. Some of the music on the demos is a bit dated, but at least they sound like Jackson songs. Why they didn’t just release the demos the way they were is a mystery. Also, making fans pay more to have the demos is a low blow. Other than that it’s a really solid release any Jackson fan would love to have in their collection.