A chilling moment occurs during the opening of “(I Like) The Way You Love Me”, one of few enchanting offerings on Michael Jackson’s first posthumous album, Michael. “Okay, this is the tempo and this is the melody…drums!” the late King of Pop directs through what sounds like a voicemail message, just before singing the song’s opening bars and unleashing a furious beat-box intended for the song’s drum pattern. The beat-boxing blends lovely right into the wispy flutes and sublime piano keys that give the track it’s classic uplifting MJ sound. It’s a moment that’s surprising and exhilarating, allowing us to hear Michael’s voice in it’s most organic, providing perhaps a final glimpse of his artistic meticulousness.
At 41 minutes in length, Michael is brief and shrouded in controversy — much like the life of the icon himself. Consisting of a mishmash of unused and half-finished material stored away in the crevices of the most expensive catalog in history — arranged as ably as possible by a team of Jackson collaborators — charges of inauthenticity rained in almost immediately after the release of it’s first single earlier this year.
“Everybody watching the news on Michael Jackson / They wanna see that I fall because I’m Michael Jackson,” he charges at the media on “Breaking News,” retaliating against the intense scrutiny that’s become synonymous with his name. “You say you love me but it’s hard to see / Because when he’s in your arms you’re throwing rocks at me / Who do you love?” he demands of a fronting flame on “Behind The Mask,” an electronic rush of quintessential Michael Jackson shinning through the second-hand meddling.
Michael absolutely has it’s moments, though. Ballad, “Keep Your Head Up”, carries a “Heal The World” vibe in arrangement with it’s flowing orchestration and a triumphant choir that grows anthemic by songs end. The Teddy Riley-produced “Monster” thumps and rumbles all the way to immediate head-nod and 50 Cent’s guest verse adds just enough grittiness to the track’s raucous guitar strings and bass line. “Best Of Joy” bursts with inspiration as Jackson’s falsetto eerily speaks directly to the legacy of his music on millions of people worldwide: “Wasn’t it I who carried you around / When the walls kept tumbling down…I am forever / I am forever / We are forever”.
The nostalgia Michael’s music carries for those millions of us worldwide is unfortunately the biggest problem with Michael. Jackson’s progressiveness and laser-aimed focus on perfection was always the foundation of everything he ever did and resonated through every song he ever made. His meticulousness is what set him apart; how much he cared about every “Heee…heee!” and “Whoooo!”. And given the patch-work necessary to piece Michael together posthumously, it’s impossible to imagine that this is a collection of songs Michael intended to deliver.
Teddy Riley, Tricky Stewart, Neff-U, Eddie Cascio and Akon worked impressively to re-create MJ’s untouchable sound, providing a sonically consistent, uplifting offering that conceptually detours from the darker undertones of History and Invincible. If anything, they’ve proved that they are masters at mimicking Michael Jackson.
But when opening track “Hold My Hand” feels more like Akon featuring Michael Jackson than an a song that would actually be on a Michael Jackson album, the collaborative vision feels disingenuous. It feels inauthentic. And when that one chilling moment occurs at the beginning of “(I Like) The Way You Love Me”, where we hear The King of Pop give specific direction on the tempo and melody and that song brazenly fails to include the specific drum pattern beat-boxed on the voicemail, the entire project feels dubious — no matter how many times “Hollywood Tonight” rocks through the New Year. No matter how cool it is to hear is voice once again.