Yes, that’s Michael Jackson singing, though it isn’t quite a Michael Jackson album. He had less to do with this CD than any other.
Though this beyond-the-grave release, titled “Michael,” is no complete disgrace, it doesn’t compare with his best. The tills will ring out “Christmas cash-in.”
The CD opens well with “Hold My Hand,” a 2007 number with Akon, and the words “this life doesn’t last forever.” Not profound, though eerie enough in retrospect.
“(I Can’t Make It) Another Day” features Lenny Kravitz. “Monster” is a duet with 50 Cent about the perils of fame (“you gave them your all, they’re watching you fall”). It has echoes of the “Thriller” title track. Jackson recalls that era better with “Much Too Soon,” a ballad recorded in the 1980s and now stripped back to his lilting vocal.
“Breaking News” returns to the theme of hysterical media coverage, while “(I Like) The Way You Love Me” starts with him trying to work out the melody before the track kicks into gear. Sony says this song was close to finished, while some of the rest were simply “conceived and inspired by the King of Pop.”
That’s the problem. Jackson might have done the songs very differently, or might not have wanted them released at all. The producers are guessing what he’d have done. With the Akon duet and his work with Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas, Jackson was exploring new musical territory.
The CD is just 42 minutes, half an hour shorter than the stodgy 2001 “Invincible” and all the better for that. The worrisome thing is that Jackson’s producers plan many more albums. They had decades of outtakes, demos and rough cuts to draw on and obviously selected the most promising. It doesn’t augur well for future releases if this is the best they can do.
Those looking for genuine Jackson holiday presents could do worse than getting “Michael Jackson’s Vision,” a boxed set that contains all of his short films -- more than four hours. It replaces video compilations such as the “HIStory on Film” DVDs and has a new video for “One More Chance.”
Rating: **½ for “Michael,” ***½ for “Michael Jackson’s Vision.”
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
“Michael” is out today on Epic, priced about $14. “Michael Jackson’s Vision” (Epic/Legacy) is a three-DVD box set priced at about $40 or less. Download fees vary across services.
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)