It seems pretty obvious that the curators of Michael Jackson‘s estate care very little for his legacy. That debacle Michael notwithstanding, they seem to think it’s appropriate to a) put the legend inside what appears to be an intergalactic veterinary dog cone, and b) name his album after an indoor ski slope in Yorkshire.
But hey, we’re never going to be the sort of purists that think Jacko’s unreleased catalogue should be left alone. We’re always up for hearing the King of Pop’s voice, whatever the form; in that respect, Xscape is a decent pop album by today’s standards, one we might even go as far as to say the man himself would be proud of.
It starts off in the best way possible. The piano-driven Love Never Felt So Good is vintage MJ, a crystal-clear Motown classic and a showcase for that voice that aches and soars in the thrall of romance. It’s hard to get such a pure love song in the charts these days, and Jackson remains the master of treading the line between enamoured and cheesy (ignore the Justin Timberlake version though, as poor JT is way out of his depth). Chicago and Loving You don’t quite measure up to that level, but they remain highly enjoyable entries to the catalogue.
It’s a trajectory that continues, with Jacko intelligently tackling his critics on Do You Know Where Your Children Are, a song that simmers with antagonism. And by far the highlight is the title track, as Xscape is everything you want from a Michael Jackson song: creative, spiky, wholly original and driven by this man’s brilliance. But given that it’s plonked after a dud like Blue Gangsta and what-sounds-like-an-Enrique-offcut Slave To the Rhythm, the sheen is somewhat lost.
However, the biggest transgression on Xscape happens on A Place With No Name (you know, one of the many fantastic demos we all heard ages ago). It’s hard to go wrong with the America original, especially with Jackson’s chorus harking back to the glory days of Leave Me Alone, but a serious case of over-production has robbed it of all charm. Which goes for the album as a whole – the fact that the original demos are included makes the new stuff sound horribly over-produced, and proves just how much of a genius Jackson was without interference. It’s still a top-notch collection, but the full package just highlights a very pertinent point made a long time ago by our friend Kanye West: “MJ gone, ma nigga dead.”