Alarm bells sounded throughout the music industry when it was announced that a 'new' Michael Jackson album was being prepared for release. After all, having only issued three records of fresh material since the dawn of the '90s, all considered underwhelming when held up to his earlier triumphs, what hopes could there be for a ragbag of offcuts drawn together by others after the singer’s death?
Yet, while no one would have the gall to claim that the simply-titled Michael scales the dizzy heights of Off The Wall or Thriller, it nonetheless presents itself as a unified piece of work and testament to the man’s continued energy and inspiration. There is a danger, however, of its musical merits being overlooked because of the various unanswered questions that surround its completion.
Sony are being decidedly coy about revealing just how much work was done to these songs since Jackson’s death, and how much of each was committed to tape with his blessing. Internet chatrooms have been abuzz with suggestions that some vocals are the work of soundalikes, or that certain tracks had long been dismissed by Jackson himself and would never have been heard had he lived.
It’s worth pointing out, though, that almost all of this speculation comes from people who haven’t heard the album, and it will be interesting to monitor its reception once it reaches record stores on 13 December.
The press statement given to reviewers at high security listening sessions leading up to the album’s release only partially clarifies its construction: “Using the roadmap Michael provided with his notes, his voice and the creative ideas he had shared, they took the songs left by Michael in various stages of production and completed the album. Here is Michael’s work, brought to life through them.”
Ultimately, then, it’s perhaps the most – necessarily – collaborative album of Jackson’s career, but while its 10 songs are liberally daubed with the fingerprints of fellow musicians, writers and producers, the talent, intentions and work ethic of one man shines like a beacon throughout.