Michael Jackson ‘Xscape’ Album: Review Roundup

May 12, 2014

‘Xscape’ is the second posthumous Michael Jackson album to be released. Are these songs worth listening to? Would the King of Pop approve? These are questions which have no definitive answers, of course, but now that we have a new album, the music critics are weighing in. Find out what they have to say.

This new album was executive-produced by L.A. Reid and, as originally announced in the press release, the eight previously unreleased tracks were “contemporised.” Timbaland was the main producer of the album, with others contributing, including Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, Stargate and Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon and among others. The songs span nearly 20 years of Michael Jackson’s career from 1983 to 2001.

The promotion of the album has been notably muted. The lead single, “Love Never Felt So Good” had its world premiere during the live broadcast of the inaugural iHeartRadio Music Awards, with R&B superstar Usher performing a dance tribute live on stage. Originally a duet with Paul Anka, the vocals heard on this new version are Justin Timberlake’s.

The appropriateness of the album is something that is debated and will continue to be debated. That discussion carries on aside from and apart from the music and its merit. Michael Jackson is not the first music artist to have music released which did not see his final perfecting touches in place, to say nothing of his possible veto.

The reviews have been mostly positive with a few mixed. Here’s a roundup.

“….For much of “Xscape,” the aggressive style dominates. It’s in the title track. It’s in “Slave to the Rhythm,” which was leaked last year as a duet with Justin Bieber, but appears here Bieberless. It’s in “Chicago,” “Blue Gangsta,” and “Do You Know Where Your Children Are,” none of which are bad songs, but all of which sacrifice melodic ease for rigor and unease. The production both lends a hand (on “Blue Gangsta”) and does him no favors (on “Chicago”). Even when the performances are masterful on their own terms—and the singing on “Blue Gangsta” is thrillingly virtuosic—what comes through is worry, anxiety, and unhappiness. …” — The New Yorker

“…And while not perfect, Xscape is more like it. The songs – mainly ones that missed the cut or didn’t make the grade from 1983 on – are given a funky makeover and Xscape feels coherent and contains enough reminders of the man’s undoubted genius…..” — The Telegraph

“….“Xscape” does polish up these old songs, even if it wipes away some of Jackson’s ideas, like the big-band tango Jackson invoked on the demo of “Blue Gangsta.” And Jackson’s voice — deliberately pushed up front in the mixes — is more vivid, and less processed-sounding, than it was on his later albums, whether he’s exulting or imploring or grunting or whooping.

“Yet it’s clear why Jackson shelved the songs on “Xscape.” They’re near misses, either not quite as striking as what he released or lesser examples of ideas he exploited better elsewhere….” — New York Times

“….For the most part, the sonic “updates” don’t feel overly artificial. The boosts tend to be sensitive, even organic, in part because some of the best don’t seem contemporary at all…Most of the cuts boast far more engaging and uplifting tunes than Jackson managed on his last album, the constipated and robotic “Invincible” from 2001. Better, Jackson’s vocals on “Xscape” have more range, and certainly more joy, than anything on that final official work released in his lifetime…..” — New York Daily News

“…Nearly five years after his death, that voice remains, and is at its most powerful on the new album “Xscape.” Eight songs that use Jackson demos as blueprints to construct modern, vibrant tracks, the artist’s second posthumous album of studio recordings feels shockingly vital, as though the producers charged with re-imagining this work had harnessed dance floor defibrillators.

“Equally alive are the eight demos of these songs included with the deluxe package, resulting in a strong addition to the King of Pop conversation. At nearly every turn, “Xscape” succeeds in its intended goal of “finding new and compelling ways to capture the essence, the excitement and the magic that is Michael Jackson,” as stated in the liner notes…..” — LA Times

“…There are moments on Xscape when classic Michael Jackson is recaptured. From the electronic womps and finger clicks on ‘A Place with No Name’ (impressively sampling a riff by folk-rock band America), to the rolling bass and showman brass on title track ‘Xscape’, each embodies the energy and urgency the icon employed during his performing career. But it’s on the opening cut and lead single where Jackson’s spirit is fully felt….” — Digital Spy

And with the unreleased music, now released, the debate and the expectation and curiosity over more unreleased songs from the vault will continue. The audio of ‘Love Never Felt So Good’ is below.

Pictures: PRNewsFoto/Epic Records

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