Whether you love him or hate him, think he's a bit weird, or think he got away with a crime, you have to admit that Michael Jackson made a huge mark on the music business. His death in 2009 came as a shock to millions of people around the world and brought out some of the best and worst in people who feel passionate about Michael and his legacy. Whatever your opinion of the man, it is the music that I would like to focus on here.
I grew up on many artists, but Michael Jackson was my favorite. It was his Bad tour that provided me my first ever concert experience when I was a ripe ten years old. I would dress up as Michael and dance around the house as a kid. In my high school years it was the HIStory album that provided a lot of the soundtrack to my junior year and I will admit, when Invincible came out in 2001 I snatched it up at the store. So when I heard Sony was putting out a new album of music from the King of Pop, I knew it was going to find it's way into my library.
Michael Jackson died in June of 2009 leaving behind three children, and leaving millions of fans in a state of shock (pun intended). Shortly after his death, the world learned that Michael had recorded an extensive amount of music in the years since Invincible was released. Some reports put the song totals up near two hundred. Michael did this so that his three children would be able to live off of his talents in the years ahead. The first dive into this vault of music brings us the album Michael released by Sony's Epic label on December 14, 2010. The album comes with ten songs, eight of which Michael either wrote or co-wrote and nine songs that had not been released before.
"Hold My Hand" kicks off the album and is a nice R&B pop song that features Akon, who wrote the song for Michael. The song was the lead single for the album as well. It is a very pleasant start to the album and when I first heard it I was taken aback by the fact that this man is no longer with us. The song is full of life and a great reminder of what Michael offered the music world. This song was recorded in 2008.
"Hollywood Tonight" is co-written by Jackson and has a nice feel to it that harkens back to the Dangerous days. The lyrics are more modern, but the music is full of that same vibe. It is a nice departure from the lyrics Michael wrote on HIStory which were very bitter.
"Keep Your Head Up" brings out Jackson's beautiful falsetto and provides a nice calm song with a positive message. Co-written by Jackson, it shows the depth of Michael's creativity with all the different musical sounds that fill out this song's soundtrack. From xylophones, triangles, hand claps and smooth synthesizers, the music comes together to give you a very fine mix to showcase the vocals.
"(I Like) The Way You Love Me" was originally released as part of The Ultimate Collection compilation put out by Sony in 2004 in demo format. Here we get a completed version of the song. What I really like about this version is Sony put in Michael's instructions on how to do this song. Michael is known to have planned out every instrument's parts using his vocals because he never learned to actually play an instrument. At the open of this song he is telling producers how the tempo, melody and drums go before we kick into the actual song. It is a cool glimpse into his creative process. The song itself is one of the standouts on the album and is great to hear in a final form.
"Monster" thunders in next with a "Smooth Criminal" like sound. The lyrics are open to interpretation, but to me this song sounds like it was written by Michael about his father, Joseph. In it he talks about a man who is drunk with the glimmer of Hollywood. Joseph has been trying to recapture his success from the days of the Jackson 5 and to me this is Michael saying that he focuses too much on fame and not enough on things that matter. The song itself isn't the best song, but it is a fun change of pace. It features 50 Cent performing a rap in the middle of the song. There is a lot of speculation that it isn't Michael singing here, but Sony defends it's research and the integrity of the song.
"Best of Joy" was written by Michael Jackson and is one of the last songs ever recorded by the King of Pop in 2009. Again Michael uses his falsetto voice in this one. To me the tempo is too fast for what the song is. I would have liked to have heard it slowed down a little bit, but given the fact that it was recorded the same year he died it is understandable that this is what it is. Slowed down a bit I think it would have been a more enjoyable song.
"Breaking News" harkens back to HIStory with the montage of Michael news clips. The song focuses on people's obsession with reporting anything about him. It is a bit self glorifying, but an interesting take from the man on how he felt the coverage of his life was being portrayed. Lines like "why is it strange that I would fall in love? Who is that boogey man you're thinking of" sum up the strange attitudes of many in the entertainment world pretty well. It is worth noting that this song has also been called into question by many family members, including Katherine and Michael's two oldest children, as to the legitimacy of Michael's vocals. Of the three songs called into question, this one is probably the one I could actually buy as not being Michael.
"(I Can't Make It) Another Day" was written for Michael by guitarist/songwriter Lenny Kravitz. The song has the driving bass line you would associate with a Lenny tune and in all it is a nice tune, but just doesn't actually feel like a Michael Jackson song.
The final two songs on the album "Behind the Mask" and "Much Too Soon" come from the Thriller era in Michael's career. "Behind the Mask" starts off with a cheering crowd and smooth jazzy saxophone before jumping right into a grooving beat powered by drums, guitar and bass. The song comes from the Thriller era, but could have easily fit on the Off the Wall album. It's a great song and a highlight on the album. "Much Too Soon" closes the album and sends the listener home with a song that really hits home. While the song isn't about Michael's death in particular, it really reminds you that he left this world way too early. It's a beautiful song about losing a girl you love. The music is powered by a sweet piano/guitar accompaniment accented by rich violins and Michael's soft voice. It's a great way to end the album and remind you of a man that had so much more to give, but closed himself off after he felt the world turned on him.
Many feel that Michael lost it after 1993's Dangerous album and the Jorde Chandler scandal, but I think Michael proves that Jackson still had a lot of music left in him and his writing ability and music genius was as strong as it had ever been. The good news is that there are more albums to come from the King of Pop posthumously, and let's hope the music that comes out is as good as this first effort by Sony. Michael has inspired numerous artists, millions of fans, and most likely even those of you reading this in some way or another. Do yourself a favor and pick up this album. I know you won't be disappointed. Rest in Peace Michael Jackson, you have given the world a beautiful final gift in your music.