Between the feuding family, the accusations of record company conspiracy, the forensic musicologists and the relative awfulness of Jackson’s later output, we weren’t expecting much from Michael. We certainly weren’t expecting a slick package of dancefloor-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 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.
The resurgence of the ’80s influence in pop obviously works in Jackson’s favour – the incessant hi-hats and farty horn synths that characterised much of Jackson’s best solo work are back in electro-spades. Perhaps mindful of the rumours suggesting Jackson impersonators were used to complete the vocals, Game of Death- style, the producers have perhaps overegged the tics and whoops that 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 memorable things Jackson has recorded this century.
Even the slowies maintain the momentum. ‘Keep Your Head Up’, a female-empowerment anthem reminiscent of Ghostface Killah’s ‘Big Girl’, is only slightly marred by the predictable, gospel-choir-assisted mega-crescendo. Miami jeep-bump jam ‘(I Like) The Way You Love Me’, meanwhile, shows that Jackson can make a successful slow cut without having to ballad it up (although it will sound better when the cast of Glee inevitably cover it).
Although the lyrics are often melodramatically messianic, there are some great ideas here, such as Jackson’s vocal update of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s ‘Behind the Mask’. Best of all, there is only one diabetes-inducing Disney soundtrack offcut, the predictably boring closing ballad ‘Much Too Soon’. For Jackson die-hards, 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 the perfect time for Jackson to stop.