Sound: Before listening to Michael Jackson's posthumous release aptly titled Michael it was difficult to not hope in some way that his final songs were indicative of the gifted songwriter that the King of Pop was in life. Regardless of whether you feel Jackson was an icon or insane, the man has churned out an impressive number of classics by today's standards. It's knowing that Jackson was both gifted and a perfectionist that makes listening to the new record Michael an often trying experience. Apparently Jackson never ceased writing and the material heard on the new record represents songs that go back to the early 1980s and all the way up till right before his passing in 2009. That being said, the majority of what is heard on Michael was finished after his death, and you can never truly be sure if the end product was what Jackson intended.
Michael has its moments, but a few of the first tracks might get you nervous. Hold My Hand feels too heavily steeped in the generic, overproduced pop heard by the Black Eyed Peas and a plethora of other radio-friendly artists. And oddly enough, the first word spoken on the entire album is Akon spoken by Akon himself, who duets with Jackson on Hold My Hand. Hollywood Tonight does have a catchy chorus to be sure, but you have to cringe at least a little when it all of the sudden transitions into Taryll Jackson performing a completely unnecessary spoken word section. Keep Your Head Up feels more like the familiar Heal-The-World-era that we've come to know, and although pleasant, it's too predictable.
Although not the most memorable song, (I Like) The Way You Move Me does start out with one of the most interesting moments on the entire CD. You hear Jackson on a phone line, singing a song idea and beatboxing the beat intended for the future track. It actually seems to take quite a big leap in sound with (I Like) The Way You Move Me, but it's still a rather cool aspect. Monster provides slightly more energy and emotion, and even 50 Cent shows up to rap. Again, it's entertaining, but nothing classic.
It's not until the latter half of Michael that there is some semblance of new life. Breaking News does borrow from a topic that Jackson often returns to being left alone by the paparazzi but it features the most memorable chorus to date and is just a solid pop song through and through. I Can't Make It Another Day makes you smile with each woo-hoo uttered by the late pop singer, while also featuring some unique arrangement choices and a welcome guitar solo. The closer Much Too Soon in some ways could be considered the most genuine track from Jackson. In comparison to the other nine offerings, Much Too Soon is downright stripped down. With very little instrumentation and a cherubic Jackson singing with a gentle deliver, it's a heartfelt track that was wisely chosen to be the final song that sticks with you. // 7
Lyrics: The lyrical content is fairly standard for Jackson. Whether the bulk of the lyrics were written by Jackson alone is up for debate, but it does stick with some familiar topics. As was mentioned earlier, Jackson's lifelong battle with the paparazzi is discussed in Breaking News, lives of excess are explored in Hollywood Tonight, and Behind The Mask is essentially an inquisition for a girl who apparently has two lovers. Much Too Soon plays as a song of regret in a relationship, and while still a common song topic, the vocal delivery sells it. // 7
Overall Impression: In the end the listener is left wondering just how different the album would have sounded had Jackson been alive. Would any of these songs even made the final cut? Fans of Jackson probably will appreciate any unreleased material, however, and there are more than a few tracks that represent the Jackson that we've come to know since the mid-'90s. While there aren't any songs that come close to broaching Beat It, Billie Jean, or Smooth Criminal, at least half of Michael should be welcomed by Jackson's legions of devotees. // 7