Album review: Michael Jackson - Xscape

Michael Jackson performs during his first date in Great Britain at Wembley Stadium on July 30, 1992. Picture: Getty

Michael Jackson performs during his first date in Great Britain at Wembley Stadium on July 30, 1992. Picture: Getty

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SINCE Michael Jackson’s death in 2009, barely a year has gone by without at least one posthumous album release, bloating his catalogue with anniversary re-issues, soundtracks, compilations and – the last refuge of the barrel-scraper – remix albums.

MICHAEL JACKSON: XSCAPE

EPIC, £15.99

Star rating: * * *

This latest retro-fitting of the Jackson legacy follows the 2010 release, Michael, in compiling previously unreleased material. But where Michael “brought to completion” tracks which Jackson had been working on just prior to his passing, Xscape is built around eight vocal tracks he recorded in the fertile years between 1983 and 1999.

Any existing music has been swept away and new backing tracks composed around the vocals by producers including Timbaland and J-Roc, Swedish duo Stargate and Rodney Jerkins, who collaborated with Jackson on the Invincible album.

However, it is John McClain who does the tastiest job on Love Never Felt So Good. While completist fans will probably want to hear the original recordings on the deluxe edition, anyone in need of some of that makes-it-sound-so-simple MJ magic should stick with the reworking of this feelgood number, co-written with Paul Anka in the 1983 session which also produced This Is It.

McClain harks back to the sweetness of Jackson’s late 70s period with a light funk soul groove, garnished with swooping strings, creating an effortless vibe to match the carefree vocals. Little wonder that Justin Timberlake wants a piece of this action, although his bonus guest vocal version adds nothing much to the pot.

The rest of the album can’t quite live up to this blissful opener. Loving You, for example, is a sweet, mellow but relatively inconsequential song, despite Jackson’s exquisite vocals. But there are stylistic nods to various corners of his catalogue threaded through the other tracks. He falls foul of another Billie Jean-style temptress on Chicago, showcasing his tough and vulnerable vocal sides, and rails against stranger danger on Do You Know Where Your Children Are?, tooled up by Timbaland. Stargate, meanwhile, give his trademark gasps a beefy funk backing on A Place With No Name while Jackson references the hook from America’s Horse With No Name.

Had Jackson been alive to collaborate with these men, chances are he would not have chosen to revisit this material. But if the vaults must be emptied, at least the latest clear-out has yielded a reasonably rounded, sensitively (but not over-sensitively) handled and enjoyable album. FIONA SHEPHERD

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