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Album Review: Michael Jackson’s “Michael”

Michael reached number 3 on the Billboard album chart

The first release of Michael Jackson’s since his death a year and a half ago, and the first album with all new material in nine years, Michael is an amalgamation of tracks. Many sound similar to different albums of his career with small touches to make them sound more modern by various people though it’s hard to tell what was changed by ear alone.

The most modern sounding of these tracks is “Hold My Hand” and “Monster”, thanks to appearances by Akon and 50 Cent respectfully.  Unfortunately, the weakest song is his duet with Akon which was to be originally released on Akon’s 2008 album, until the unfinished track was leaked. The first track to chart on the Hot 100, it reached the Top 40.  “Monster” on the other hand is much better, with anger and persecution in the vocals you would find in the last three of his studio albums.  Indeed,many of the songs sound as if they came from these albums. “Best of Joy” sounds like a song from Invincible, “Hollywood Tonight”,with its opening reminding one of “Who Is It” and a catch phrase and spoken vocal reminiscent of “In the Closet”,from Dangerous.  Originally recorded for Invincible, “(I Can’t Make It) Another Day” sounds as though it came from Blood on the Dance Floor or HIStory. It was produced and written by Lenny Kravitz with guitar and background vocal by Kravitz.

The three best songs on this album are “Breaking News”, “Behind the Mask”, and “Much Too Soon.”  The latter two were both written or cowritten by Michael during the Thriller era and it’s not hard to tell.  “Behind the Mask” is the best track on the album, with the sounds of a concert crowd  opening the song.  It includes a sample of the Yellow Magic Orchestra song of the same name.  Yellow Magic Orchestra was a pioneering electropop group from Japan, who released their original version in 1979. The only criticism is that the saxophone on the track may be a little cheesy for some.  The album closes with the song “Much Too Soon”, the title  seeming to comment on Michael’s untimely death.  However,the lyrics itself have nothing to do with the death and instead talk about love lost.  The finale harkens back to Michael’s solo songs before Off the Wall, but this time with a twenty-something voice.

Overall, the album has received reviews that were neither strongly negative or positive.  Personally, I would recommend it especially for fans of MJ.

 

Tony

A musical recommendation: Bad

Bad (1987)
written, composed and sung by Michael Jackson
produced by Quincy Jones

Bad

Somehow, Michael Jackson managed to be the most commercially successful music artist of the 1980s in spite of releasing only two albums during that decade.  The second, Bad, is something of a turning point, for several reasons.  It was his first album after suffering major burn injuries, it was his first album since his skin began to appear more white than black, and it was his first album released after he became the most famous performer in the world.

Getting right to the point, it’s a pretty good album.  It’s certainly a very catchy collection of tunes and doesn’t suffer very heavily from the self-importance that would plague his later works.  “Man in the Mirror” is the only track that really gives a glimpse into the future messianic madness, but the large choir combined with cheesy, 80s-style synth bass make it an enjoyable listen in spite of itself.

A lot of the album is actually dedicated to seedy sides of life, which is simultaneously laughable and attractive.  Instead of singing about his mission to save and then rape every child in the world, Jackson sings about “Speed Demon”s and people with names like “Dirty Diana”.  “Bad” is an exercise in opposing extremes; on the one hand, Jackson sings about what a motherfuggin’ badass he is while accompanying his lines with almost vaudeville-esque harmonies that seem to demand jazz hands choreography.  According to Quincy Jones, this was supposed to be a duet with Prince, but it’s easy to see why he declined – it’s just not his style at all.

Overall, the singing is expressive and uniquely Jackson.  Unfortunately, the production is rather plastic and common.  The tones and arrangements are always as crisp as can be, without many hints of personality.  Perhaps the one distinct aspect of the production is the preference of synth basslines over bass guitar, which has its ups and downs.  The superslick production doesn’t come anywhere close to ruining the album and manages to make Bad, like all Jackson albums, a snapshot of trends and styles of the time.

Apparently, only one song on this album was not released as a single in one market or another, that track being “Just Good Friends”, which I find to be as catchy as anything else on the album, with a minor key progression that might represent the feel of the album more efficiently than any other track.

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