Michael is no way to remember the King of Pop
It's a terrible cliché to say that someone would be rolling over in their grave to know what was being done with their legacy—but sometimes there's no better way to describe something so terribly clichéd than by using the same language.
Michael, the latest—and likely not final—release from the estate of Michael Jackson, is not an album that truly honours the King of Pop. There's nothing on Michael that approaches legendary, let alone necessary. It's bland, it's derivative, and it's an ungodly cliché of how to milk even more money from an oversaturated legacy.
I wouldn't call myself a huge Michael Jackson fan. I'm not too embarrassed to admit that my first real exposure to the King of Pop's catalogue was through Weird Al parodies (seriously, the video for "Eat It" is unparalleled in its hilarity). The only MJ album I own is Thriller; it's nestled next to a tired vinyl copy of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours on my record shelf. But somewhere in my cold dead heart, there is an immense soft spot for Jacko—and it is that spot that spent most of its time cringing whilst listening to Michael.
Half these songs never should have seen the light of day, at least not on a Michael Jackson album. While quite beautiful, "Much Too Soon" suffers from far too much post-production—a cliché of strings, overly processed harmonica, and soft choruses of oohs and ahhs—turning it from a halfway decent song into the kind of stinky cheese that would be right at home in the repertoire of a former American Idol contestant.
Similarly, "(I Like) The Way You Love Me" is a soft-rock wet dream, sounding too similar to Hall and Oates than music created after 1985 ought to sound. The beat is sick, but in a sad, anemic way. Maybe it's supposed to hearken back to classic MJ hits like "The Girl is Mine" but, frankly, no song should. "Breaking News", a no-holds-barred indictment of fame, tries to be cheeky by leading off with soundbites of newscasters reporting on MJ-related scandals before it explodes into a Justin Timberlake-esque dancefloor throwdown—but the conceit is tired, and the actual explosion noise is beyond unnecessary.
There is one shiny piece of auditory gold on this album and it is "(I Can't Make It) Another Day", a posthumous collaboration with Handsome Man Club member Lenny Kravitz. The song is primarily a Kravitz tune—as he did everything on the track save for the lead vocals (that's all MJ) and the drumming, which was left in the more-than-capable hands of none other than Dave Grohl—but it comes off sounding like Jackson at his absolute, classic best. Starting off with a gong, the song quickly embraces a hot, danceable beat coupled with Kravitz's effortlessly grungy guitar licks. Jackson's voice is raw and full of passion, and Kravitz sings backup in a solid but restrained fashion.
"Behind the Mask" isn't terrible, either. It's possibly the only song on the album that attempts to update MJ's sound for the 21st century, featuring killer bass paired with tasteful synths, if such a thing exists. There's maybe a little too much jazz sax but you can't win 'em all.
There is one more small saving grace on Michael: the refreshing lack of Auto-Tune. That's right, the King of Pop doesn't need any fucking Auto-Tune. You know why? Because he could sing.
When you listen to a Jackson album, you should be inspired to be startin' something, not tempted to take a nap. This 10-song offering is more "Ben" than "Beat It", which doesn't seem to like the proper way to remember a man who singlehandedly changed the face of pop music. Let's hope that the posthumous releases that will inevitably follow are more befitting of the memory of such great talent.