Any posthumous release is tricky for two reasons primarily: that producers working on the album don’t tarnish the legacy of the artist who’s departed and that most of the original work is left in place for the vocals to shine through. When Sony released Michael in 2010, it was met with much angst from both critics and fans alike as a mere hodge podge of demos, outtakes, cutting room floor looped tracks that Jackson never wanted to unveil to the world and the extreme disapproval about whether Jackson’s vocals actual inhabited some of the songs. Xscape, the second posthumous release is nowhere near the grab bag displayed on Michael. In fact, by most accounts it could be called a cohesively put together compilation that in effect revives Michael, putting him front and center in the midst of an ever-evolving music scene. A collection of 8 songs, Xscape, features contemporized demos that Jackson recorded throughout his career. Each provides context into the overall theme of the album – a voyage away from all that is wrong with the world. From “Love Never Felt So Good,” a glistening performance of Michael’s airy and funky vocals amidst an impressive assortment of sounds to the memoirish title track.
Timbaland in updating “Love Never Felt So Good” ensured that the song maintained its disco feel a la “Off The Wall” to where it feels as if the song could’ve easily fit on what was the fifth studio album by the King of Pop. “Chicago” could be referred to as a crooner melody as Jackson sings in his lower register within a menacing beat also provided by Timbaland.
“Loving You,” is full of the vocal flourishes that made Michael – Michael. The song boasts a slick, snappy bassline and lyrics about retreating away from the world to marvel at a lover. On “A Place With No Name” initially recorded in 1998, Jackson speaks on be transported to an idyllic world. The original demo used America’s “A Horse with No Name,” while the Stargate version gives the song a “Leave Me Alone” sound that after a few listens is just as exceptional as the demo.
“Slave to the Rhythm” tells the tale of a woman trapped in a mundane life and desperate to break free. Having heard both a dance version of this and the version that featured Justin Bieber, it was a surprise to find them both absent from Xscape as additional offerings on the deluxe version. Recorded during the Dangerous sessions, a whopping 24 times, with the aim of making it worth listening to, the song is definitively Michael with the “oh mys” “woos” and breaths that were uniquely his own.
“Do You Know Where Your Children Are,” speaks on a subject that many may find offensive, or even provocative – but Jackson was known for being thought-provoking (i.e. “Earth Song,” and “They Don’t Care About Us”). The simply cool and cinematic pop exquisiteness of “Blue Gangsta” is awash with strings, a chorus that’s extremely icy and dark that it could perhaps be called “Smooth Criminal” part deux. The title track closes out the album and is about getting out of and away from the system, its ills and vices.
In examining the numerous comments both of other articles and YouTube about this release, fans of Michael’s are definitely conflicted about whether this album should have even been produced asserting that Michael would have revealed these unfinished cuts at the time they were recorded if he wanted to. But that’s beside the point. Xscape distinctively places Michael’s smooth vocals, falsetto, growling and grace back on center stage. It gives fans a chance to hear new music from the man, known for perfection. There is unfortunately no time machine that can give us Michael back, so these posthumous releases of songs left behind in reassembled forms are the next best thing.
Xscape receives a PARLÉ
PARL… Kinda Great
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