Michael Jackson's 'Xscape': Track-by-track review

2014-05-12
michael-jackson-xscape-tracklist-1There's a "new" Michael Jackson about out today (May 12) - the second posthumous collection from the King of Pop since his death in 2009. Here's a track-by-track guide to what to expect. Love Never Felt So Good Written with Paul Anka, and cut as a demo in 1983, this track is pure Off The Wall-era Jackson, with its groovy bass and strings, plus added piano, and a beat not dissimilar to the famous Billie Jean pulse. A duet version with Justin Timberlake has also leaked online. This is a perfect slice of MJ pop, which could certainly have been an acceptable single back in the day. Chicago The production of this number drags it a bit further up-to-date; it's a highly digitalised effort propping up a mid-tempo hip-hop song. There are smooth but strong vocals in the verses, but he spits angrily on the chorus - almost like They Don’t Care About Us. On the whole, it’s very much an album track. Loving You The hook is as good as Love Never Felt So Good, and it sounds modern without being overly synthesised. Again, it probably would have come from MJ's pre-Thriller era, but the Timbaland production (he’s worked on pretty much every track here) bring it right bang up to about six years ago. A Place With No Name Recorded in 1998, this samples the America song A Horse With No Name, and much of the rhythm and instrumentation resembles Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground. Like most of these songs, Jackson’s on top form, but only in so far as great album tracks go – there isn’t a hit single in the midst at all. Slave to the Rhythm No, not a Grace Jones cover, but an ode to a lap-dancing single mother - with Michael on top social commentary form. This one was written by the dream team of LA Reid, Daryl Simmons and Babyface, and yet is terribly repetitive. That is until the middle eight, when it redeems itself somewhat with a heightened moment of vocal energy. This sounds more like something Janet should have been happy with. Do You Know Where Your Children Are This has strong production, not as over-cooked as Slave To The Rhythm, and a brilliant chorus. Lyrically, he’s sinking his teeth into something here, and there's some awkward lecturing from the King of Pop – it’s addressed to parents whose kids have run away from home, including a daughter who was being sexually abused, and is forced into prostitution. This is a stand-out moment – plenty of "hee-hee"s as well (welcome back). Blue Gangsta This is a dud unbefitting of Jackson - the chorus and production could be from a 50 Cent track. This is clearly one he wrote later in life, and would barely have made impact on his latest album proper, 2001's Invincible. Xscape A one-word track which gives title to the whole album – like most Jackson records – it’s as typical of the album as any other. Full of his the staccato fiery vocals that fill this album and most of his later work, but again, there’s nothing new here. THE VERDICT: 3/5 No better than the previous posthumous album Michael from 2010, but no worse either; it’s easy to say he wouldn’t have wanted these scraps to be cooked up and released, but it’s no worse than Invincible either, which he released himself in 2001. There are good ideas littered throughout, but no stand-out hit songs or obvious singles for the current music market. One of the biggest problems is Timbaland’s production. He worked with Jackson and has a rightful claim to doing this work, and making it sound like classic MJ, but if we were after something a bit more current, will.i.am (who Jackson also worked with) or Pharrell would have been the correct choice to give this the once over. I’ve been a lifelong Jackson fan, but I would appreciate one solid collection of outtakes and demos, rather than what appears to be a sustained milking of his leftovers. Sometimes less is more – fans don’t want work that isn’t to Jackson’s perfectionist level. > Listen to Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake's duet > Darren Hayes: The art of legacy - thoughts on Michael Jackson's new album