Just a year and a half after his death, Sony Music subsidiary Epic Records release this controversial collection of previously unreleased Michael Jackson songs. A self-conscious selection of material 'Michael' tips its caps to Jackson's past musical triumphs as well as his tumultuous relationship with the public and the press in a way that often feels like exactly the sort of contrived pastiche that might be orchestrated in order to profit from the loss of an icon. Nevertheless, a small number of infectious pop tunes stand above the dregs of sentimental balladry to gently hint at a return to form that might have been in the pipeline was it not for Jackson's untimely passing.
Praised by some, condemned by others and accused of faking the King of Pop's voice by his own family, this posthumous album has inspired much controversy. Recorded primarily in 2007 between New Jersey, Las Vegas and LA, 'Micheal' also features two songs ('Behind The Mask' and 'Much Too Soon') from his 'Thriller' era as well as a remixed version of 'The Way You Love Me', which featured on 2004's 'The Ultimate Collection'. Whether or not these are really his vocals (for the purposes of this review, let's believe the folks at Sony and assume that they are), with its large number of producers and collaborators, 'Michael' is still largely the work of others.
Previously leaked in 2008, lead single 'Hold My Hand' is Akon's baby, written and vocally led by the R&B singer. On the other hands, 50 Cent's rap contribution never detracts from Jackson's theatrical performance on 'Monster', while Lenny Kravitz is only perceptible in his songwriting style and discreet backing vocals on rockier number '(I Can't Make It) Another Day'. To this album's credit, it would have been easy to lazily throw this album together with little thought - it'll sell either way, after all - but the production here is always sharp, stylish and contemporary.
There's still the uneasy feeling that this isn't the album Jackson would have made if he were still alive, but whether he would have made one better or worse is anyone's guess. If he had gone further down the upbeat road of 'Hollywood Tonight' or maintained the anger and attitude of 'Breaking News' we may have witnessed the return of one of the finest voices in the history of pop music. However, had he continued in the vein of sappy slow numbers like 'Keep Your Head Up' or '(I Like) The Way You Love Me', we might have seen a prolongation of the creepy caricature he had become in the last decade.