Thriller wasn't lying...
May 15, 2014 2:59 PM   Subscribe

Michael Jackson has a new album out: Xscape

When he died in June 2009, Michael Jackson left behind a trove of unfinished recordings — some were released on the 2010 album Michael, while many more were left behind because they were in rough demo form. Jackson's label went through the material, then asked Timbaland and other top producers to finish the King of Pop's ideas with an album called Xscape. -Tom Moon, NPR Music

Again, it helps that Xscape comes frontloaded with the safest (and earliest-recorded) track, now assisted by Justin Timberlake: “Love Never Felt So Good” is an opulent, warm disco-soul floorfiller in composition and, judging by a couple couples, in practice - Katherine St. Asaph, Time

Love Never Felt So Good - Michael Jackson & Justin Timberlake

Xscape [Instrumental] - Michael Jackson

Track-by-Track Breakdown by Forrest Wickman and Aisha Harris


Classic (& epic) MJ for reference: Smooth Criminal

Even more classic, just cuz: I Want You Back - Jackson 5, 1971
posted by jammy (29 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't been the biggest Michael Jackson fan since some time after Bad, and I don't generally go for posthumous releases like this, but it's kinda cool we're getting tracks recorded all the way back in 1983 when (IMO) he was at his best. I'm actually going to check this stuff out later, thanks for the post.
posted by Hoopo at 3:10 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

When you wear an outfit out like he is on the cover, you can drink as much or as little as you like because its a legendary party already - rather than wearing it on your head you are standing in the lampshade!
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:13 PM on May 15, 2014

"Contemporized" -- since when has there been a need for an Orwellian euphemism for producing?
posted by Catblack at 3:32 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The version of "Love Never Felt So Good" that's just Jackson is pretty fucking wonderful.

I'm not as thrilled by the version that's a duet with Justin Timberlake, but it isn't horrible and understand why it was made.

The whole idea of this project seemed like a bad idea in theory but in execution I quite like it.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:41 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

[This] is a trick that's been tried before with Jackson's music. When Motown overdubbed and remixed some of his decade-old factory seconds in 1984, it yielded the Farewell My Summer Love album, whose packaging briefly fooled a few people into thinking it was the follow-up to Thriller [...] It doesn't help that the outtakes they're dealing with are several tiers below the stuff that ended up on Jackson's later albums—maybe the estate is trying to parcel out the best material over time, maybe it doesn't get any better than this [...] Most of these tracks are Jackson hiccuping and eee-hee-ing on autopilot through underdeveloped semi-tunes. [...]

Jackson liked to present himself as pop's eternally youthful Peter Pan. In truth, he was more its Rabbit Angstrom, forever re-enacting his moment of moonwalking glory from a position of ever-increasing bitterness. Defensive, brittle songs like Xscape's title track ("don't you try to tell me what is right for me!") don't look good on anyone. The most embarrassing song here, though, is "Do You Know Where Your Children Are", a Dangerous outtake that apparently never got finished. (If Jackson knew what the bridge's lyrics were going to be, he wasn't letting on in the recording studio.) It's a finger-jabbing harangue about a 12-year-old runaway who's "tired of stepdaddy using her/ Saying that he'll buy her things while sexually abusing her" and ends up hooking on Sunset Boulevard. As courageously stand-taking as it was for Jackson to indicate that he opposed child abuse, it might not have been wise for his estate to release a song in which he's getting all sanctimonious about that particular topic. [...]

The one keeper on Xscape is its opener, "Love Never Felt So Good", which is also its oldest song—it dates from 1983 or so—and the one that's been in circulation the longest: written by Jackson and Paul Anka, it initially surfaced on a 1984 Johnny Mathis album. It's got the best Jackson vocal here, too. The original take, which is mostly just his voice, fingersnaps and a piano, showcases the kind of gravity-defying singing-for-pleasure that we barely heard from him in the post-Thriller era. The deluxe version of Xscape appends a Timbaland-produced remix of "Love Never Felt So Good"...It sounds pleasantly like an echo of good Michael Jackson, but the fact that sampling an even earlier Jackson song makes it sound more contemporary says something about how wrongheaded this entire project is.
- Douglas Wolk, Pitchfork
posted by anazgnos at 3:42 PM on May 15, 2014

It just takes a few seconds to realize why he never released “Love Never Felt So Good”: The song feels like it belongs on 1979's "Off the Wall," not on a follow-up to "Thriller."
posted by yellowcandy at 3:46 PM on May 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

I pretty much like most things by Timbaland. His stuff with Missy Elliott is awesome.

If you are having a party and want to make it bounce, you put on any timbaland. I mean hell, I even like the stuff he does with Pitbull.

So if we are going to produce the heck outta can't go wrong with Timbaland. I'm pretty sure Pharell is busy doing...everyone else.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:54 PM on May 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

That cover pisses me off to no end. If you're going to put Michael Jackson in a space condom at least have the decency to Photoshop out his hair that is hanging on the sides.

Also, there's something about Michael Jackson's version of "Love Never Felt So Good" that just sucks. Maybe it's the for-shit Barry Manilow background track. Johnny Mathis did it better.
posted by phaedon at 3:55 PM on May 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

The version of "Love Never Felt So Good" that's just Jackson is pretty fucking wonderful.

Crap! I meant to link to this: Love Never Felt So Good - Original Version

Thanks MCMikeNamara
posted by jammy at 3:57 PM on May 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

What happened to the D’Angelo produced song that was supposed to be part of this?! I was excited for that, and now my life is terrible…
posted by Chris Brummel at 4:09 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Named after the Milton Keynes indoor snow facility of course.
posted by biffa at 4:23 PM on May 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

@Chris Brummel: They pulled the plug at the last minute. Jesse Johnson was talking about it on his FB page. I guess JT just had the higher marketability factor.

All in all, this is a better release than 2010's Michael (at least there aren't any fakes on this one). However, all of these 'contemporized' versions pale in comparison to the originals imo. Those were the ones MJ grooved to. These sound chopped up and bastardized, but kudos for a solid effort.

It's also worth noting that most of these songs had already leaked in some form. I wonder if this really is as deep as the well goes. I hope there are many more finished songs left to be heard (I really wanna hear some outtakes from Dangerous).
posted by turnips at 4:33 PM on May 15, 2014

Maybe the followup album should be titled Arthuritis.
posted by sonascope at 4:49 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The most embarrassing song here, though, is "Do You Know Where Your Children Are"
posted by Flunkie at 4:58 PM on May 15, 2014

That difficult second posthumous album.
posted by rongorongo at 3:00 AM on May 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

I haven't been the biggest fan since the whole thing about being in bed with those kids.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:18 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

The song feels like it belongs on 1979's "Off the Wall," not on a follow-up to "Thriller."

Feature, not a bug...
posted by ersatzkat at 4:12 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Condom? It's a 'contemporized' Elizabethan ruff and from the sound of it, about the most original idea in this project.
posted by epo at 5:05 AM on May 16, 2014

There's usually a reason a track goes unreleased or unfinished and very often that reason is because they're not very good.
posted by tommasz at 5:53 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

For me, Michael Jackson is in the same category as Woody Allen, Mel Gibson, or Roman Polanski -- a brilliant artist whose personal flaws and weaknesses will forever overshadow his artistic legacy. It's not the only way to see their work, and I'm glad people are getting so much pleasure from it, but to me there is a point where they become inseparable.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:02 AM on May 16, 2014

Now that MJ's dead, I feel more sentimental about his stuff than I did when he was still alive and haunted by the allegations against him. His was truly a tragic story, given his early personal history of abuse and all the mind-contorting challenges of child stardom. Jackson (more so than many high profile figures whose work is overshadowed by suspicions of monstrous personal conduct) comes out looking as much a tragic victim as victimizer in his story, even granting the worst suspicions about his private behavior. For some reason, that makes his work seem a little less tainted to me.

Well, that's not quite right actually. All of it definitely still affects how I hear his stuff now, but often, in a poignant, almost bitter-sweet way. On the one hand, I associate his voice and his music with those cheerful images of him tearing it up on stage as a bright-eyed kid with the Jackson 5. On the other hand, they're inextricably connected to all sorts of negative associations with child abuse and the horrors of celebrity worship run amok. Jackson's is a complicated story, and despite his surface pop superficiality, he was a complicated artist and human being. Either way, he's dead now, so I don't think anyone should feel guilty buying his stuff. He's more or less passed from reality into mythology by this point anyway, the monstrous god of pop and youth culture incarnate.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:04 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can happily enjoy Michael's music, and I always will. I haven't forgotten that he was never convicted of any crime, nor was there ever any evidence of any crime.

Really digging these new tracks.
posted by girlmightlive at 8:44 AM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Even if he didn't abuse anyone, he was still exploited and persecuted in life to the point of personal ruin, so while I can happily enjoy his stuff now, too, to a point, I can't do it without also being reminded a little of how much he suffered and reflecting on the heavier realities surrounding the undeniably inspired but superficially lightweight pop music he created. What MJ's personal story reveals both directly and indirectly about human nature adds depth and meaning to what might otherwise just be an ephemeral cultural commodity from my point of view. But yeah, I'll probably get this if for no other reason than to check out the demos.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:12 AM on May 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

(And I actually kind of like the first single.)
posted by saulgoodman at 11:13 AM on May 16, 2014

I've actually been really digging a lot of this record. Slave to the Rhythm is great. Posthumous records are almost always horrible, so the bar was pretty low, but I think they did a pretty stellar job overall.

Granted, I love almost all things MJ.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:55 AM on May 16, 2014

It just takes a few seconds to realize why he never released “Love Never Felt So Good”: The song feels like it belongs on 1979's "Off the Wall," not on a follow-up to "Thriller."

However, in a world where "get lucky" is a chart topping hit they played the wheels off of, it seems perfectly on point.
posted by emptythought at 12:34 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

saulgoodman: Thank you for your comments. You speak eloquently to much of what I feel toward Michael Jackson, artistically and personally.

I can't help but think of this movie scene when I think of Michael Jackson, actually. He was such a confluence/conflagration.
posted by jammy at 2:50 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

A short while after his death, I acquired his discography and played it all on shuffle one day as I worked in my yard. I was plesantly surprised about how many of the lesser non-hits were surprisingly good.
As for this album, squeezing the lemon for all its worth, post-mortem is par for the course, no?
posted by Fupped Duck at 8:15 AM on May 17, 2014

emptythought, definitely. I'm not saying it doesn't work as a 2014 release.
posted by yellowcandy at 9:34 AM on May 17, 2014

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