For a man who's now been dead just over a year, Michael Jackson has been awfully productive lately. This is his sixth posthumous release since he collapsed and died on June 25 last year, his body coursing with Propofol and Lorazepam, midway through rehearsals for the This Is It tour. Yet Michael is notable for being the first release thus far with any legitimate claim to containing new, original material. Biographer Ian Halperin claimed that in the March before he died Jackson had recorded over 100 songs he didn't want released until after he died. The first set of new songs, then; but almost certainly not the last.
Not that it's a given proud perfectionist Jackson would have wanted many of these songs to have seen the light of day even when he had expired. New, it should be noted, is a word open for manipulation when it comes to deceased multibillion-selling artists. Syrupy closer Too Much Too Soon hails from the Thriller era; Hollywood Tonight, meanwhile, is a scrap of a song dusted off and tarted up from 2001's Invincible sessions. If there is a heaven, and if Tupac, Cobain, Presley et al made it through the gates, chances are they're consoling a wincing, visibly embarrassed Jackson, cursing his inability to bolt the demos drawer in Neverland's vaults just that little bit tighter.
Michael is also a release notable for its special guests. 50 Cent turns up on Monster, a song which is essentially Thriller stripped of everything that's brilliant about the tune, while Jackson and Akon battle it out to be the dominant force on opener Hold My Hand. Somewhere beneath the Senegalese-American's "woos" and "yeahs" there's a passable Michael Jackson B side, but anything that's good about it spends the entirety of the songs running time battling to break through. Marginally better is the Lenny Kravitz collaboration (I Can't Make It) Another Day, thanks largely to just how energised Jackson sounds. Though the guitarist does his best to sully matters by noodling all over the top of it.
Last month Jackson's mother Katherine claimed that many of the songs on Michael contain vocals that belong to voices that aren't her son's. Record label Sony refute the claims, assembling a team of former associates - studio engineers and the like - to give creditability to their defence. But for anyone who feels passionately about the legacy of Michael Jackson, his mother's caution is certainly worth consideration based on the content here, regardless of the facts.