Capitalism Resurrects The King Of Pop

Although Michael Jackson’s new posthumous album is topping the charts in 50 countries, Andrew Romano is disappointed with Xscape, which reworks Michael’s unreleased material into tracks like the “duet” with Justin Timberlake above:

Xscape is the second Jackson disc assembled by Sony since the artist’s death in 2009; the first was 2010’s Michael. But unlike MJ’s previous posthumous release—10 songs that Jackson wrote, recorded, and reworked from 2007 to 2009 but never got around to releasing—Xscape doesn’t have anything fresh to offer. It’s not a glimpse of what Jackson was working on post-Invincible (2001), his last studio LP. Nor is it a collection of archival ephemera and outtakes, like the Beatles’s Anthology. Instead, it’s something else entirely: a meager batch of pre-1999 scraps and stray demos selected by Epic Records boss L.A Reid to be “contemporized”—read: inflated, balloon-like, into something that will sell—by Timbaland, Stargate, Rodney Jerkins, John McClain, J-Roc, and various other producers.

In other words, Xscape is a product—and that’s exactly what it sounds like.

Peter Tabakis is outraged, not at the quality of the album, but rather at the crass profiteering it represents:

Xscape is far from terrible. The album’s source material is regularly pleasurable, often fascinating, and sometimes revelatory. But as merchandise – the noblest term you could apply to Xscape – most casual listeners will purchase a scandalously meager product. The “standard edition” consists of just eight songs, “contemporized” by Timbaland and a handful of guest producers (including Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon, Stargate, Rodney Jerkins, and John McLain). It comes at the low, low price of $8.99 on Amazon (for an MP3 download) and a buck more on iTunes. Conspicuously not included on the basic model are the original versions of Xscape’s songs. To get those, you’ll have to upgrade to the “deluxe edition”, which comes at a seven-dollar premium. But wait, there’s more. As an added bonus, “deluxe” customers will also receive a third version of “Love Never Felt So Good,” with Justin Timberlake plunked in. Why? Well, why not? Jackson’s family is strapped for cash. Epic isn’t doing much better. And they’re both looking to fleece you further over the coming years. So please, for their sake alone, act fast and purchase your copy today!

Or in the words of Black Keys drummer Peter Patrick Carney:

“[It’s] some fucking bullshit that sucks so bad that it took them three years after he died to make it listenable,” he tells Rolling Stone’s Patrick Doyle. “Like he had to be dead for three years for it to be released.” He suspects it finally saw the light of day because “L.A. Reid needed a new boat.”

Tom Moon’s review is more favorable:

There’s still no mistaking that voice; that fervent intensity he brought to every line. Can’t lie: It’s nice to hear. Still, there’s reason to wince about this project — it’s devoted to material that Jackson worked on for various albums, but didn’t finish or elected not to share. Making matters worse, these tracks don’t represent Jackson’s vision alone: Label president L.A. Reid commissioned producers to “contemporize” — his word — Jackson’s demos to appeal to the current market.

But the deluxe version also includes the raw demos before they were “contemporized.” Even in what sounds like a rehearsal situation, Jackson manages to convey the heart of a song. He nails all the twists of the melody. His passion sells it — you forget it’s not a final take. At times, he sounds like he’s thinking back to Motown days and recalling the influence of Stevie Wonder.