MICHAEL JACKSON Xscape
Well, who would have thought it? Jackson has never released so much material in his life.. oh, wait. Xscape may be a bit bizarre in execution, but there's no doubt that's its a far superior record to the limp and final “Invincible” and 2010's underwhelming hodgepodge that was “Michael”. Instead of a barely reheated selection of material spread across 25 years that sounded like the selection of forgotten songs chosen at random that "Michael" undoubtedly was, “Xscape” is easily the best Jackson album there's been in nearly 20 years. Admittedly, that doesn't say much. But, on the other hand, “Xscape” is a Jackson record not only worth buying but listening to. Taking the previous 90%-finished songs, and adding a modern day splash of magic, are some of the biggest names there are. In the album booklet, this process is describing as 'contemporising', but really, this approach is taking Jackson's unfinished material and making it sound like a cohesive, and enjoyable album. Stuff from 1983 (such as "Love Never Felt So Good”) and 1999's fabulous “Blue Gangsta” and making them both sound that they were made last week is a rare achievement, but the Jackson estate has finally realised that nobody really wants to buy a record made of a random assortment of old leftovers, but treated with care and thought, and the large selection of unreleased Jackson material – there are at least 8 full finished songs in circulation and a total of 4 albums planned after this – and there is plenty of promise.
Whilst the original and finished “Xscape” is a slender feast of 8 songs and 34 minutes 4 seconds, the deluxe edition that comes with a DVD also features 9 extra audio tracks, the original non-contemporised versions of the songs from 1983-1999 and a Justin Timberlake version of “Love Never Felt So Good.” adding an extra 40 minutes of unreleased Jackson music, and a 40+ minute documentary DVD that details the construction of the record (that I haven't had time to watch yet). It's fascinating to hear what they did to the songs in their released forms and to hear the final versions Jackson left nearly-completed before his death ; they also become, in effect, a set of bonus tracks for the original records as well, being removed from the final album running orders often very late in the process.
“Xscape” is a small meal, but it's great to hear again another example of what could have been, another interpretation of the world Jackson was always working, and to have an album that stands alongside the others. Aside from the cover art (which on the inside jacket reflects the 1988-Jackson that had ceased to exist by the time of his death), you could easily be forgiven for thinking that “Xscape” is a genuine but belated followup to 2001's “Invincible.” In retrospect this is a grand achievement, taking songs that are over 30 years old in some cases, and making them of the here and now.