Ten studio albums. One billion records sold worldwide. Hits after hits. One posthumous album. It goes without saying Michael Jackson had a pretty damn successful music career. Does he need another posthumous album? Epic Records and Sony Music Entertainment seems to think so.
Nearly five years after his death, a second posthumous Michael Jackson album has been released. Official news about Jackson’s new album was announced on March 31, 2014 via a press release from Epic Records.
“Michael left behind some musical performances that we take great pride in presenting through the vision of music producers that he either worked directly with or expressed strong desire to work with,” said Epic Records Chairman and CEO L.A. Reid. “We are extremely proud and honored to present this music to the world.”
Executive produced by Reid, “Xscape” is a compilation of eight unreleased tracks — recorded between 1983 and 1999 — that have been contemporized by some of the music industry’s top producers including Timbaland, J-Roc, Darkchild and Stargate.
A few themes occur throughout the short and sweet project — the highs and lows of love and finding an escape route from the crazy world.
Read our track-by-track review below to find out if “Xscape” is a hit or miss.
1. Love Never Felt So Good: The eight-track offering begins with “Love Never Felt So Good,” which was a demo Jackson recorded in 1983. The reworked version preserves the 80’s feel while making it relevant in today’s soul-infused music. The finger snaps, hand claps and mid-tempo beat is enough to get someone on their feet dancing.
2. Chicago: We first learned about “Chicago” from Timbaland’s interview with Revolt TV last year. The super produced boasted about how modern the song sounds. “I think this song should be the first [single] because ‘Chicago’ sounds like today,” he said. On the track, Jackson finds himself having an unintentional affair with a woman who has been living a double life. The woman lied to Jackson, telling him she was single. “She said she didn’t have no man/ Raised her kids the very best she can,” Jackson grunts over the synth beat.
3. Loving You: This track was originally recorded during Jackson’s “Bad” era in 1987. On the heartfelt track, Jackson croons about unrequited love. “And the weatherman said, if you’re not well stay in bed/ Cause I’ve been feeling down and blue and it’s cloudy in my head,” he sings.
4. A Place With No Name: Produced and reworked by Stargate, the futuristic tune begins with Jackson’s signature vocal hiccups over a synthesizing beat. While driving in the middle of nowhere, Jackson randomly gets a flat tire. He steps out his vehicle, walks down the road and meets a mystery woman. The woman takes him to a place where people are all happy and have no pain. “This place is filled with love and happiness/ and not a world could I wanna leave,” Jackson croons. He effectively uses his song lyrics to tell a story that can be visualized upon listening.
5. Slave To The Rhythm: Originally recorded in 1991 during Jackson’s “Dangerous” era, the track tells a story about a woman who does her best to satisfy her man’s needs — all while balancing her duties at work and as a mother — but he doesn’t appreciate it. Despite it all, the woman can’t seem to leave him. “She works so hard, just to make her way/ For a man who just don’t appreciate/ And though he takes her love in vain/ Still she could not stop, couldn’t break his chains,” sings Jackson.
6. Do You Know Where Your Children Are: First recorded during Jackson’s “Bad” sessions and later developed during his early “Dangerous” sessions, this song raises awareness about runaway children. The eye-opening track tells a story about a 12-year-old girl who runs away from home after being sexually abused by her stepfather. The little girl ends up in Hollywood where she believes she can make lots of money being an actress. She meets a man who offers to help her make money; however, he ends up turning her into a prostitute. “He’s taking her on the streets, of Sunset Boulevard /She’s selling her body hard,” Jackson croons.
In a note discovered by Jackson’s estate, the singer writes about the inspiration behind the song: “(It) is about kids being raised in a broken family where the father comes home drunk and the mother is out prostituting and the kids run away from home and they become victims of rape, prostitution and the hunter becomes the hunted. So they are out on the street. Do you know where your children are? It’s twelve o’clock. They are somewhere out on the street. Just imagine how scared they are. It’s about the runaway problem we have in America.”
7. Blue Gangsta: Transitioning back to the topic of love, Jackson suffers from a broken heart on “Blue Gangsta.” Jackson unleashes his fiery vocals infused with anger over his partner who took advantage of his love. “People telling me, you got another guy/ I been abused, watch me light in fuse/ Said you’d be my wife, nothing but big lies,” he sings.
8. Xscape: Jackson hits the ground running on “Xscape.” Produced by Darkchild, Jackson flexes his gritty vocals over the bass-heavy track to vent about his frustrations with the system, relationships and the media. “(Escape) The pressure that I face from relationships/ Got to go away (Escape)/ The man with the pen/That writes the lies that hassle this man,” sings Jackson.
Critiquing a posthumous Michael Jackson album isn’t an easy task since he wasn’t involved in the process. However, overall, “Xscape” is a solid album that honors Jackson’s legacy and versatility as an artist. The short and sweet project gives fans a behind-the-scenes taste of Jackson’s studio sessions from different eras that we grew to love. Thankfully, Sony and Epic Records included the original version of all the tracks on the deluxe version of the album.
Some may argue that the release of “Xscape,” another posthumous album, isn’t necessary. I agree. While the body of work is pretty solid, it doesn’t compare to Jackson’s earlier works. Each era of Michael Jackson not only came with evergreen music but also memorable videos and electrifying performances. Those were key components of his success. Unfortunately, Jackson isn’t with us so it seems a bit awkward to have “new” music released from his label and not have him out there promoting it.
Hopefully, his label and estate will allow him to rest in peace. Two posthumous albums is more than enough.
Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars
Standout Tracks: “Love Never Felt So Good,” “A Place With No Name” and “Xscape”