Prime Cuts: Love Never Felt So Good, Slave to the Rhythm, Loving You
Posthumous albums are a tricky affair. On one hand, they can be seen as legacy tarnishing exercises whereby songs are desperately scraped from the bottom of the barrel and slapdash together. On the other hand, for an artist of such career heights as Michael Jackson, the crumbs that fall of his cutting board can be far superior compared to the prodigious outputs coming out of today's artists who may only have a fraction of Jackson's talents. Since Jackson's home going in 2009, two posthumous albums have come out of the megastar's vaults. Due to its lack of direction and its paltry promotion, 2010's "Michael" was met with tepidness. Fast forward now to 2014, Sony Music under the helm of L. A. Reid is poised to try again with "Xscape" Will they succeed the second time around?
"Xscape" comes in two versions. The standard form packages 8 previously unreleased songs that Jackson had recorded between 1983 and 1999 (just prior to his "Invincible" album days). Sony's executive L. A, Reid has enlisted some today's hottest producers (Timbaland, Stargate, Rodney Jerkins, Jerome "J-Roc" Harman and John McClain) to update these tracks so that they have a contemporary sound. In addition to the newly fashioned 8 tracks, the deluxe edition augments with the original takes of the 8 songs plus a duet version of "Love Never Felt Good" with Justin Timberlake. Truth be told, the Justin Timberlake's involvement is a blatant waste of time. The former N'Sync lead singer is so circumspect as a way of not trying to upstage his idol that his singing is purely peripheral.
So, how does the album proper of the newly mixed 8 songs flare? The record is a mixed bag, there are songs that excel and there are others that are just what they are, outtakes. The songs that excel include the lead single "Love Never Felt So Good." Co-written by Jackson with crooner Paul Anka, this track was recorded in 1983 after his "Thriller" days. Rather than crowding up this 80s gem with a mechanical sounding electronic wrap, Jackson is allowed to croon this mid-tempo with soaring strings and his signature hip-cups. Maybe it was the product of its time, "Love Never Felt So Good" trumps on its strong melodic hook, a trait that is missing in many of today's songs. At a time when L.A. Reid and Babyface were riding high on the charts with their work with Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, Jackson got to work with the dynamic pair on "Slave to the Rhythm." With the fierceness of Whitney Houston on her "Queen of the Night," Jackson shows he too can be the king of the New Jack Swing.
"Loving You," which was an outtake from his "Bad" recordings, shows a more romantic side of Jackson. While the title cut "Xscape" is the result of Jackson exclusive three year collaboration with Rodney Jerkins. Littered with Jackson's signature stutters and his drag and pull rhythm, "Xscape" sounds better than some of the tracks on "Invincible." But the bizarre one night stance stint of "Chicago" and the disturbing story of a sexually abused under aged girl of "Do You Know Where Your Children Are" not only fail to be memorable, but they are just not appropriate considering Jackson's legal brushes. Of all the 8 songs, why wasn't there an inclusion of a ballad in the likes of "You Are Not Alone"?
"Xscape" should be taken for what it is: it's a posthumous album made in the spirit of Michael Jackson's legacy. Naturally, given that the best of his works have had already seen the light of day when Jackson was alive, any posthumous record will not hold up to his previous efforts. Nevertheless, if we were to hold up "Xscape" to the light of the releases today, Jackson's music still blows itself out of the water.