We seem to have an obsession with reviving stars from the dead. 2Pac appeared as a hologram at Coachella, 12 posthumous Jimi Hendrix albums have been released and a Drake-lead Aaliyah album is rumoured to be in the works. There’s been a lot of talk around whether Jackson’s second studio album since 2009 will tarnish his reputation. After one listen, it’s unlikely. Does anybody remember Michael from 2010? You’ve all probably tried to erase it from the memory, mostly because it featured Akon.
Thankfully this one isn’t half as much of a rush job as Michael. Xscape sounds polished and true to Jackson’s style. Executive producer of the record, Jimmy Iovine said that the intention was to make it sound like a record Jackson would’ve made - and it does. The only problem is whether or not that’s a style people want to hear in 2014.
With that considered, let’s take a journey and escape to Xscape.
Love Never Felt So Good
Dim the lights, pour the champagne and start spinning the circular bed. This one is classic MJ, harking further back to his Jackson 5 days than any other era. It’s a disco-flavoured affair, with a guest spot from Justin Timberlake but it still feels so old fashioned. Everyone’s aware that funk is back thanks to Pharrell but this feels dusty. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still pulling out the daggy Mum moves and loving every second.
Opened by deep synths, we’re immediately out of disco-Jackson and into 2000s-Jackson. Apparently this one was originally recorded for his 2001 album, Invincible, and it shows. Timbaland has waved his magic over it and it’s moderately successful. If anything, it’s good to hear that classic MJ grunt again as he sings “Lie to you, Lie to me”.
Lets jump backwards again, because now we’re firmly in the motown era. Timbaland and J-Rocc have brought this track into 2014 but I can’t help but wonder whether it would’ve been better left untouched. Or am I just thinking about the whole Jackson legacy in general? Either way, this one’s about as memorable as the last season of the Biggest Loser.
Edit: I’ve just listened to the original version and my earlier thoughts have been confirmed. It would’ve been better left alone.
A Place with No Name
Rihanna’s producers, Stargate fiddled with this one and it’s probably the most successful so far. It maintains a funky baseline but peppers it will a deep pulsating beat. Jackson’s vocals on this are so on point, it’s hard not to enjoy this track. His licks, runs and grunts are all there in abundance and he feels more present than 2Pac’s Coachella hologram. Unlike the previous song, the original version doesn’t hold a candle to the 2014 update.
Slave to the Rhythm
Timbaland’s back on this one and you can tell. It sounds similar to Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience with a shuffling beat and futuristic synths. This is apparently about a house-wife who’s caught in a mundane life but would rather be dancing. Pretty emotional stuff. The track doesn’t really pull through until the euphoric fourth quarter when Timbaland pairs it all back in favor of a glistening synth.
Do You Know Where Your Children Are
This one’s a difficult listen given Jackson’s history with alleged sexual abuse. The industrial percussion and ‘80s synths are there in glorious abundance but it’s hard to just focus on that and not give all your attention to lyrics like “She wrote that she is tired of stepdaddy using her”.
The opening verse of this is Timbaland’s finest moment on the album. The brooding start makes me imagine Jackson emerging onto stage in a smoke machine-induced haze and it’s all sorts of magic. He’s then joined by a brass-heavy beat and everything goes awry. The original of this is so uncomplicated but Timbaland seems to have added and added to it until it’s almost unbearable to listen to. I’m a huge fan of anything brass-related but apparently you can have too much of a good thing.
Nothing says contemporary like a misspelt title track. It’s so will.i.am, so Gen-Y, so 2014. Unfortunately that’s where the contemporary aspect of this track ends. Like a large portion of this album, they’ve tried to keep it true to Jackson’s style and still bring it in to 2014. In the end it sounds confused and irrelevant.
Xscape is out in Australia on 13 May.