Even though he’s been dead for 5 years, the Michael Jackson “estate” is releasing a second posthumous album, Xscape, using old demos that the King of Pop recorded decades ago.
The first posthumous album, Michael, worked because it fed off the novelty of hearing new music from MJ, but really, it sounded like a forced production of half-baked MJ tracks that probably never really should have seen the light of day. That’s not a problem here. This feels much more organic. That being said, Xscape is a bloated album. Since there’s both the original demos and the newly produced versions (mainly produced by Timbaland), there’s really only 8 songs to hear on the album. At least they are all great.
First single, “Love Never Felt So Good”, is featured 3 times on the deluxe edition of Xscape: the demo, a solo version, and a duet version with Justin Timberlake. Is there any doubt on which one you’ll end up listening to the most? The two superstars never had a chance to record together, and since JT is basically MJ’s reincarnation, it’s great to hear MJT together. It’s a groovy track that is a great throwback to MJ’s 80s tracks, but JT adds some nice variations here to give a current sound too.
From there, Timbaland smartly makes his productions secondary to Michael’s vocals. Timbaland’s style is usually easily identifiable, but here, I never would have guessed he produced 7 out of the 8 tracks. The music on “Do You Know Where Your Children Are” sounds more like a Daft Punk track than anyone else. The music supports MJ’s voice instead of overpowering him. It’s interesting to listen to hear the original demos to only hear how Timbaland geniusly freshened them up for a 2014 crowd. This is some very strong work from the superstar producer. That said, the best track here is actually produced by Stargate called “A Place With No Name”. With a nod to “Fever”, the song has a pulsing drive that will get your foot tapping, and it also takes MJ out of his usual R&B comfort zone.
Of course, the album feels like a compilation instead of a fully-realized piece of work, but that’s to be expected. The demos included were smart selections as there’s a nice variety here. This isn’t the best Michael could be, but even solid MJ material is better than most material we hear from pop artists these days.