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Chart Chat Album Review : Michael Jackson – ‘Xscape’ (12.05.14)


Chart Chat Album Review : Michael Jackson – ‘Xscape’ (12.05.14)

When I was young I remember rushing into town to queue up to pick up a copy of Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ as soon as it was released. Even now there is something exciting about a new Michael Jackson album, even if in this instance that excitement was tempered slightly by the disappointment of ‘Michael’, his first posthumous release.

While many feel ‘Michael’ was rushed, this latest release has more of a labour of love feel to it with the likes of Timbaland, Stargate and LA Reid & Babyface lending their talents to ensure that the result does the King of Pop’s memory justice.

What follows are our thoughts on the new ‘Xscape’ album track by track :

Love Never Felt So Good

The Justin Timberlake version features later on the albums track listing, and this is just Michael on his own.  I really like this, and the sound achieved is very reminiscent of the early 80’s ‘Off The Wall’ Michael Jackson.  My only slight concern is that this was first recorded in 1983, so Michael had not chosen to include this on any of his albums released in the intervening twenty six years before his death.  The question is that if he wanted us to hear it why did he not choose to release it? We will never get a chance to fully answer that question, and if we disregard that argument then it is a fine pop song although it hasn’t performed as well in the charts as I thought it might.  This version also shows that it probably didn’t need to have Justin Timberlake on it at all!

Chicago

This is a more up to date song, having first been recorded in 1999. The track was written by former Sony VP Cory Rooney and we are told that Michael fell in love with it the first time he heard the scratch demo version. It certainly sounds more modern than ‘Love Never Felt So Good’ and perhaps should have featured on his 2001 album ‘Invincible’. It was initially known as ‘She Was Loving Me’ but later changed to simply ‘Chicago’, though as the sleeve notes mention it is not to be confused with ‘Chicago 1945’ which was an unreleased track from the ‘Bad’ recording sessions.

Loving You

This track was actually written by Michael alone, and so it’s interesting to hear it in a completed format here.  It was recorded around the time of the ‘Bad’ sessions, but with the standards so high (remember the album contained nine top twenty singles in the UK) it didn’t make the cut back then. It does have almost a Motown feel to it, but Timbaland has done a great job in terms of his production to give it a 2014 feel to it.  I don’t think I would pick this one out as a possible future single but it’s a decent song nonetheless.

A Place With No Name

Just as his cover of Eric Clapton’s ‘Behind The Mask’ was a curious inclusion on ‘Michael’, this update of America’s 1972 hit ‘Horse With No Name’ is an unusual choice here. If you listen to the original version (which can be found on the deluxe format), the similarity is a lot more apparent but Stargate have done a good job as producers to bring the track up to date.  Strangely enough the updated track has an intro which is reminiscent of ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’. On balance I think that it is good that only eight tracks have been selected for the album when the temptation would have been to pad it out with a few fillers.  However it is much more exciting to hear his own material rather than covers of other artist’s songs so it would have been my choice to leave this one out.

Slave To The Rhythm

Not to be confused with the Grace Jones track of the same name, this is classic Michael Jackson.  It was written in 1991 around the time of the ‘Dangerous’ album and is certainly of good enough quality to have made it onto that album. It would sound great with some additional dance remixes, and would compete well with many of today’s contemporary artists. It was co-written by the LA Reid / Babyface production duo who have been behind so many great r’n’b tracks over the years.  I would love to see this get a full promotional video and to see it released as a single because I think that it would do well.

Do You Know Where Your Children Are

This began life during the ‘Bad’ sessions, and continued to develop during ‘Dangerous’.  With its lyrics which touch on the sexual abuse of children (“She wrote that she is tired / of step daddy using her / saying that he’ll buy her things / while sexually abusing her”) there may well of been one or two executives worried about releasing that at a time when accusations against Michael were being made.  While he was found innocent, this track would certainly have received its fair share of press attention.  It’s actually one of the better songs to be found here though, and if this was an LP I would say that the second side is better than the first.

Blue Gangsta

Arguably a distant relative of ‘Smooth Criminal’ this is a track which takes me back to the Michael Jackson sound of the late 1980’s / early 1990’s.  This was one of three tracks Michael worked on with Dr Freeze back in 1999 with only one (‘Break Of Dawn’) actually making it onto ‘Invincible’ while the other two (this one and ‘A Place With No Name’) surface here. Timbaland’s work on transforming the track shows exactly what is possible with some of Michael’s later material.  You can imagine this could have had a great video to accompany it and would have been a top five hit in his heyday.

Xscape

Rodney Jerkins first presented Michael with a demo of this in 1999, and he was instantly excited about it apparently proclaiming “wait till the world hears ‘Xscape'”. What happened in the next two years remains a mystery as why tracks such as strong as this were held back from the disappointing ‘Invincible’ album is anyone’s guess.  It’s good to end the main album on a high when so many LP’s tend to fade out.  Again this would certainly have been a successful single earlier in his career and earns its place here.

Bonus ‘Deluxe Version’ tracks

The deluxe version features the original version of each of the tracks, along with the Michael and Justin Timberlake duet version of ‘Love Never Felt So Good’.  It’s very interesting to give fans a glimpse of how these tracks started out, and what they became. There is also a DVD containing a “Making Of” documentary which provides even more detail about how the album was compiled.

Overall I am a little undecided on the album as a whole.  There are glimpses of Michael’s genius, and there are enough moments here to justify their release.  However with just eight songs I would have left the ‘A Place With No Name’ cover off, and the question still remains over the fact that Michael did not choose them for any of the albums released in his lifetime.  So are they simply cast offs? No, I believe they are better than that.  We know that the producers have taken their job very seriously in picking out songs for this album, and only Michael himself could say if he was happy with this result.  I don’t think fans will be disappointed, but I can’t help thinking that ‘Michael’ and ‘Xscape’ could have been crunched together as one much more cohesive album. 

 

Ian Anderson

 

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11 May, 2014 - Posted by | ChartChat

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