By Chris Tait
The reception for Michael Jackson’s second posthumous album Xscape has been mixed. Some feel MJ would approve, while others, like Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, call it “bullshit.” Releasing posthumous work is tricky. It’s great to hear new music from a deceased musician, but it’s never entirely their music.
Xscape features unfinished songs recorded between 1983–1999. Epic Records chairman L.A. Reid and Timbaland produced the record and aimed to “contemporise” Jackson’s music. The first track, “Love Never Felt So Good,” is the most memorable. With a disco flavour, Jackson’s voice grooves over pianos and snapping fingers making the song undeniably catchy.
Many songs offer glimpses of Jackson’s prime, but then falls flat. “A Place With No Name” riffs on America’s “A Horse With No Name,” but drops the iconic intro for hip-gyrating synths. “Chicago” harkens back to the nothing-but-trouble ladies in “Billie Jean” and “Dirty Diana,” but lacks intensity and feels overproduced. Jackson’s vocals remain the focus of the record, but they feel subdued and separate from the instrumentals.
The deluxe edition of the album features Jackson’s original demos. While unfinished, they feel more honest than the reworked material. These early cuts allow for a comparison of where Jackson’s vision started and where it ended up.
Most of Xscape is tepid, bland and nothing more than a corporate pimping of a dead man’s work. If MJ’s touring hologram doesn’t nail the moonwalk, there’s little to celebrate here.