To be perfectly honest, I’ve never been that much of a Michael Jackson fan … or, at least, it’s safe to say that I think his early solo stuff (up through BAD) was exceptional, but I think somewhere along the way he kinda/sorta lost his way musically but NEVER as a performer. As others have already said elsewhere, there’ll only be one Michael Jackson in many a generation.
Still, in my opinion there’s little earth-shattering here, despite the fact that this may be a large part and parcel of the last music Michael ever performed for his fans, and that may not be a bad thing. For Michael, it was always about the music as much as it was about performing, and so much of his life was spent exploring his sound that I found much of MICHAEL just pleasant ‘listening music.’ For a master of his craft, MJ deserved to write and perform what he wanted, and that’s largely the impression I take from this (possibly) final album.
If anything, MICHAEL presents a bit of a historical throwback in Michael’s career, perhaps back to a time when it was more about ‘the sound’ than it was ‘the career.’ Much of this comes across as soft rock – the kind of territory Michael staked out early in his work – and that came as a welcome surprise.
Hollywood Tonight: (2.5 out of 5) Shades of THRILLER as Michael resorts to a spoken word bridge in ‘Hollywood Tonight,’ the musical story about the search for fame and fortune. Not the best choice as, outside of his backing vocal sounds, there isn’t much here to distinguish itself from other superior tracks on this disc and elsewhere.
Keep Your Head Up: (5 out of 5) Vintage Michael vocals as he swoons lyrically – complete with a chorus – across this tale of musical inspiration, though a fair amount of it is a bit clichéd. “Gimme your wings so we can fly.” Still, this is the kind of stuff he could easily hit out of the park every time he sang.
(I Like) The Way You Love Me: (3.5 out of 5) There’s a bit of an opening vocal story of Michael telling you what the song would sound like as opposed to the instrumentation comes across as a bit bizarre, but it finally gives way to the music and a adult ‘soft rock’ vibe that’s easy on the ears. “I thank the heavens above that I met ya.” Again, a bit clichéd and not nearly as strong as other tracks, but it’s a harmless confection for your ears in Michael’s gifted hands.
Monster (Feat. 50 Cent): (3.5 out of 5) Hate the softer, thoughtful-sounding refrain paired with the driving and fist-pumping main verses. Musically, I don’t think it works as well as it could, especially given the message of fame corrupting and haunting the individual spirit. Clearly, this is intended as a warning label about the dangers of celebrity. We make our own Frankensteins these days, and Michael was as much a victim of celebrity as any has ever been.
Best of Joy: (1.5 out of 5) Way too clichéd, way too disconnected, & way too predictable to really achieve much, ‘Best of Joy’ is probably the weakest track here. “We are forever” repeated over & over again sometimes is nothing more significant than “we are forever” repeated over & over again. Michael will live forever, but, hopefully, this song won’t.
Breaking News: (2 out of 5) Another personal statement from Michael, ‘Breaking News’ opens with a montage of reporters and pundits announcing the latest bit and byte about the King of Pop. This is undoubtedly intended as an indictment of paparazzi destroying celebrity, but haven’t we heard this message before, arguably even on this album? I give it a few props for the jazzy horns backing up the instrumental part, but, otherwise, it’s still much too tame to be memorable.
(I Can’t Make It) Another Day (Feat. Lenny Kravitz): (5 out of 5) OK, now this ROCKS, and I mean it’s hip, groovy and magical in the way only Michael could ROCK. Great soft verse rises to a powerful refrain backed with a soft Lenny Kravitz accompanying a masterful Michael. “I can’t make it another day …” is a much more relevant lyric for Michael at this point in his life, and I’ll always recall tune when I think of his final days. An instant classic that can stand alongside anything Michael’s done.
Behind the Mask: (3.5 out of 5) A synthesizer-infused Motown rhythm about life and love behind the mask. “Who do you love?” Again, the track is lifted by some great sax work and that certain toe-tapping appeal that distinguished Michael’s craft throughout the years.
Much Too Soon: (5 out of 5) Beautifully soft guitar backed by a simple but wondrous musical arrangement, ‘Much Too Soon’ is pure Michael ballad. “Would you like to go with me, and she answered no to me, but I guess I learned my lesson much too soon.” It ends as magically as it began. This one deserves to stand the test of time, and it’ll no doubt be found and appreciated by others for quite some time.
Hold My Hand (Feat. Akon): (5 out of 5) “This life don’t last forever, so tell me what we’re waiting for …” Is there any more relevant an opening line for a Michael Jackson song given the tragedy of his passing? “The nights are getting darker, and there’s no peace inside, so why make our life harder by fighting love tonight?” Happiness is found together – between two lovers, between a singer and his song, between a performer and his audience – and that’s the significance of this closing tune.
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MICHAEL is the much anticipated album of newly completed recordings from Michael Jackson. The creative process never stopped for the King of Pop who was always planning for his next album; unbeknownst to many fans around the world Michael Jackson was writing and recording songs continuously everywhere from a friend’s home in New Jersey to studios in Las Vegas and Los Angeles with a small group of handpicked collaborators. Now, through the unique stories that will be told about the songs that comprise MICHAEL, fans will get mind-blowing insight into how this artist worked and a chance to hear the songs he most recently created along with tracks that Michael had a desire to bring to fruition.