The King of Pop Lives On
Find me one person who doesn’t know who Michael Jackson is. Unless they are toddlers, I can almost guarantee that you won’t find that one person. Now, find me people who don’t know that Michael Jackson, although unfortunately deceased, released an album from the grave. Now, you’ll probably find a lot more people who are unaware (and most likely confused). They’d probably be even more confused to find out that Jackson has released not one, but two albums posthumously. His first posthumous album, Michael, was released by Epic Records and Sony Music Entertainment in December 2010. Many criticized the album for being rushed to be put together after Jackson’s death, and it didn’t live up to the usual Michael Jackson standards. However, in May 2014, five years after Jackson’s death, his second posthumous album, Xscape, was released.
Xscape is a compilation of previously unreleased records spanning from 1983 to 2002 that have been “contemporized” by Epic Records’ LA Reid and a team of producers led by Timbaland and including StarGate, Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon, John McClain, and Rodney Jerkins. Most would be skeptical about this project that is being created without the help of Jackson, a self-proclaimed and well-known super perfectionist. However, hearing Jackson’s voice in “new” music is a complete and utter joy. Oh how I missed hearing new material with his beautiful, powerful, emotional voice. Unlike in Michael, Xscape makes Jackson’s distinct voice, with all the grunts, shouts, breaths, and hee-hees, the focal point of each record, usually taking the acappella version and adding new modern mixes to the background. The album is a mixture of the two main themes that Jackson usually sung: joy/love, and desperation/feeling trapped. It is a great mixture of gritty, dirty tones and blissful, purely joyous melodies.
Depending on the album you buy, you can have more versions of the record. I bought the deluxe version, which comes with the “contemporized” versions of the songs, plus the original versions. The first single released off the album, “Love Never Felt So Good”, has 3 versions on the deluxe album: contemporized, original, and contemporized featuring Justin Timberlake. Whichever version you listen to, it immediately transports you back to the Michael Jackson at his prime. Written by THE Paul Anka and recorded in 1983, this is a pure pop/disco classic, bringing you back to a simpler time with it’s consistent clapping beat that makes you want to get up and dance and just be happy. His voice soars on this record, and makes you wish that Jackson could’ve always stayed at his prime (not that I think he ever had a true misstep musically). The version with Timberlake gives it that modern flair, with a mixture of R&B and funk by throwing in a popping percussion beat, accompanied by Timberlake’s request to “Let me see ya move, ya move”, with his breaths doing some of the melodic work, ala Jackson. This song was the perfect song to release as the album’s first single. It also cemented Jackson’s record-breaking staying power, making him the first solo artist to have a single reach the top 10 on the Billboard 100 in five different decades.
The second single released off of Xscape, “A Place with No Name”, is a rhythmic blend of the blissful love and gritty tones that Jackson loved to incorporate in his music, mixing themes that include a woman who takes him to a place where “no people have pain”, but the sexual tension is very evident, as she shows him “places I’ve never seen and things I’ve never done”. The song was originally written and recorded in 1998 and is remake of America’s 1972 hit, “A Horse with No Name”. The song is led by Jackson’s percussive voice, opening the record with his drum-like breaths and beats. The snapping beat gives it a smooth, badass vibe, a song where you could wear dark shades and look really cool bobbing your head to. His voice is smooth throughout the record, but his raspy tone breaks through and it’s a much deeper tone than what a lot of his music is vocally. The keyboard on this track helps move this record along well, keeping the groovy grit of this song. Overall, the song is a beautiful romance of dark and light, groovy and modern. Another great choice as a single.
In my opinion, all 8 unreleased songs on this album are hits, bringing back the Michael Jackson we all knew and love. Despite many criticizing that Sony released this for money, it’s clear the masterminds behind this album are truly Michael fans and just want to do everything they can to remind people of the unbelievable artist that once ruled this earth. Go buy this album, or at the very least listen to the songs on Youtube; you won’t be sorry.