Album review: Michael Jackson - Xscape

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 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


EPIC, £15.99

Star rating: * * *

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    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


    Broken Records: Weights & Pulleys

    J Sharp Records, web only

    Star rating: * * *

    Edinburgh’s Broken Records share indie folk DNA with peers such as Frightened Rabbit but distinguish themselves from the pack by their willingness to engage with what Waterboys frontman Mike Scott dubbed the Big Music. Frontman Jamie Sutherland has the powerful pipes to ride the likes of headlong indie rock hurtle Winterless Son. Even without varying the menu too much, Weights & Pulleys maintains a compelling appeal. FS

    The Skinner Group: Back on the Horse


    Star rating: * * *

    Inspired by the unlikely pair of Frank Sinatra and Aidan Moffat, former Jazzateers/Hipsway/Cowboy Mouth frontman Grahame Skinner has emerged from songwriting retirement to form a new group of old hands and release the appropriately titled Back on the Horse. Skinner has kept faith with Caledonia soul, exercising his crooner credentials on the bruised romance of Bacharach, You Gave Me Love and exploiting the kitchen sink torment of the torchy Hole In My Soul (“you should be put to bed without your supper for what you said”) before finding peace of sorts on blue-eyed country soul number Still Messed Up With You. FS


    Captain Tobias Hume: Concerto Caledonia

    Delphian, £15.99

    Star rating: * * * *

    David McGuinness’ Concerto Caledonia do early music with a swagger, a smirk and a charismatic sense of spontaneity. They achieve varying degrees of success in this intriguing tribute to the mysterious Captain Tobias Hume, a 16th-17th century Scottish soldier and composer whose music ranges from pleasing efficiency (well-constructed Galliards, Almaymes and numerous personally attributed “delights”) to spectacularly weird songs, such as the ungainly Tobacco – like a bad attempt at a Renaissance ad jingle – or the wild stratospheric outbursts of The Souldiers Song. Uneven as Hume’s music is, these flamboyant performances – including the versatile tenor voice of Thomas Walker – have all the lilting charm of an evening’s pub entertainment.



    JC Sanford Orchestra: Views From The Inside

    Whirlwind Recordings, £13.99

    Star rating: * * * *

    While jazz big bands thrive across a variety of styles, there is an equally thriving culture of less conventional large ensembles working both within and out from jazz. Brooklyn-based composer, conductor and trombonist JC Sanford is involved with several, including those of John Hollenback and Joel Harrison, as well as his own 16-piece orchestra featured on this debut recording. The wind, reed and brass players draw on a plethora of instruments alongside strings, accordion, vibraphone and percussion (and our own Aidan O’Donnell on bass). Sanford makes full use of this expansive range of sound and colour, and his intelligent and creative compositions offer a constantly changing sequence of melody, mood and tempo. A suite of five Brooklyn Vignettes are interspersed through the programme, while the lengthy title track forms an impressive centrepiece.



    Haddo: Borderlands

    Lulubug Records, £14.99

    Star rating: * * *

    A richly toned Anglo-Scots blending of timbres here, as award-winning English harmonica player Will Pound switches with panache to his other instrument, the melodeon, in tandem with his Aberdeen-born wife, classically trained viola player and fiddler Nicky. As Haddo, named after the Aberdeenshire estate, they create a highly satisfying sound, organic, grainy and bursting with melody, reeds and strings cascading and rolling together as they cajole the traditional Morris tune Old Tom of Oxford into swinging a little, or in their own engaging composition Earl of Newman. Nicky doesn’t sound quite as at ease singing as she does at the bow – her rendition of the ballad The Two Sisters sounds girlishly cheerful, considering its sanguinary subject matter – but her viola work shines in her own air, Midama, celebrating the longboat of that name, and in Duncan Chisholm’s fine tune Farley Bridge, with the two instrumentalists passing the melody line deftly to each other.



    Boduberu: Traditional Songs from the Maldive Islands

    Asasi, £13.99

    Star rating: * * * *

    Few sounds escape contamination by the world-music industry, as it Hoovers up exotic styles in far-flung places. But the music on this disc has a pristine genuineness. First a solo singer gives the chant, then come the drums and the chorus in answer; “vibrating the island” is how locals refer to this singing. It’s thought that sailors brought this music to the Maldives from mainland Africa a millennium ago, but no African style I know of is so even and decorous. A fascinating disc; sad there are no translations of the lyrics.