Between the feuding family, the accusations of record company conspiracy, the forensic musicologists and the relative awfulness of Jackson’s later output, we must admit we weren’t expecting much from Michael. We certainly weren’t expecting a slick package of dance floor-friendly R&B with a G-funk twist. We can only assume that death has greatly improved Michael Jackson’s critical faculties. Frequently portrayed as a studio perfectionist, Jackson approached every album like it was Oasis’s Be Here Now, although his debilitating weakness for corny ballads and cloying lyrics showed his chemical of choice was clearly aspartame. Without the man himself around to overcook it, Michael is, on the whole, a surprisingly tight, relevant and entertaining record, with many of the incessant hi-hats and horn synths that characterised much of Jackson’s best solo work back in electro-spades.
Perhaps mindful of the rumours suggesting Jackson impersonators were used to complete the vocals, Game of Death style, the committee of producers have perhaps overegged the clicks, tics and whoops which gilded Jackson’s vocal lily, giving the likes of ‘Hollywood Tonight’ a Bobby McFerrin makeover. But the uptempo numbers such as lead single ‘Hold My Hand’ (featuring Akon) and 50 Cent-assisted ‘Monster’ (which, despite its paparazzi-baiting lyrics, may as well be called ‘Thriller 2’) are some of the most interesting and memorable things Jackson has recorded this century.
Sometimes, however, the lyrics are often so melodramatically messianic in tone that we wouldn’t be surprised if Jackson’s demise turned out to be a giant postmodern prank, there are some great ideas in evidence – such as Jackson’s vocal update of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s ‘Behind the Mask’, one of the record’s most successful curveballs. Best of all, there is only one diabetes inducing Disney soundtrack off-cut, the predictably boring closing ballad ‘Much Too Soon’. For Jackson diehards, it’ll be a heart-wrenching meditation on the perils of the light that burns twice as bright. For the rest of us, it’s a timely reminder that this was really the perfect time for Jackson to stop.