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Let me preface this article with the fact that I know that this is not the subject matter you expect from us here but I had just listened to the latest from the Jackson estate and it made me angry. I am a long-time and huge fan of the music of Michael Jackson. Off The Wall came out when I was seven months old. My oldest memories are of listening to the cassette of Thriller that my grandfather bought at a gas station back when you could do things like that. By God, I even had the red and yellow microphone with mini amplifier that came with a replica of his trademark glove (the deterioration of which is probably the basis for my hatred of glitter). I want you to know the level of reverence I have for the man’s music ahead of time so it tells you something when I say that I don’t want to hear any new Michael Jackson music. My feelings aside, he is the most important pop artist of his, and my, generation. In rock and roll history, only one other artist can match his iconic stature: Elvis Presley.
On December 14th, Epic Records will be releasing Michael, a collection of 10 songs that had to have been unfinished at the time of the King Of Pop’s death. Had they been complete, the label would not have waited over a year to release the album. This is a clear case of “can we” versus “should we”. The label that has prospered on the back of Jackson and his over 170 million copies sold from albums released between 1982-1991 alone, not to mention the Sony Music Group, is clearly not concerned with Jackson’s legacy. This is a chance at one last money grab from their biggest cash cow. It is true that in the 7 years after, up until his death, Sony/Epic wasn’t getting anything much out of Jackson outside of compilations and back catalog sales. While reclusive, Michael must have been busy all that time.
Always the consummate perfectionist, there probably was a backlog of material that he didn’t feel was ready and/or good enough for public consumption. He worked with currently popular producers in a constant struggle to stay relevant, often to the detriment of his music. He even remixed tracks from his finest masterpiece and all-time best selling album, Thriller, with current pop artists in hopes to connect to a younger, fickle audience. Such were the lengths that Jackson went, not just for acceptance but, to be loved. This is a bit of armchair psychology, but I believe his legal issues throughout the nineties had to make him recall his own childhood feelings of being betrayed by those who claimed to love him. General weirdness aside, he was so afraid of making a mistake that could tarnish his musical legacy that work between albums got longer and longer. He was always trying to make another Thriller. That was Mission: Impossible. Thriller was a once in several lifetimes album, a landmark that could never be repeated. But as every album performed less well than the previous, it had to have been difficult for this global icon to accept that his new music was no longer universally loved.
It is with Jackson’s perfectionism in mind that I find this new collection so appalling. That they chose the release date 11 days before Christmas further reinforces that this is nothing more than a stick-up. We shouldn’t be surprised. This practice is hardly new in the music industry and it is nothing that just about any record label wouldn’t do. This time, however, the act seems more egregious. It is reminiscent of how Tupac Shakur‘s legacy has lost its shine. There actually seems to be more posthumous material from 2Pac than when he was alive. Most of it are just clips of him rapping over new production by artists that had never even met the man. We really don’t know how much of Michael is Michael-approved. The rumor that some vocals may not be MJ’s can be debunked by as many experts as the label wants to consult but it doesn’t relieve the uneasy feeling. Personally, from what I’ve heard, I believe that it really is him. But it doesn’t mean I don’t hope I’m wrong. And if you think this is the end of it, get that thought out of your head. Michael is only 10 tracks long. I doubt this is because they only found 10 unreleased songs. It just means that this is the bare minimum they could release and there are probably more to finish in production. Oh joy, can’t wait. The King Of Pop deserved better than this.
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