I’m really not sure what to make of all the hubbub that surrounds Michael, the first posthumous release of “new” material from Michael Jackson. Part of me thinks, “if Michael didn’t intend to release this stuff when he was alive, why put it out now?” Of course, the answer is because there’s money to be made.  Suckers like me will shell out dough for just about anything that has Michael’s name on it.

From the second that Michael was announced, I knew that curiosity was gonna win out over my better judgment. Even with the God-awful “teaser” track “Breaking News”, even with the concern from people (including several of Michael’s relatives) that the King of Pop’s voice may not actually be on parts of the album, even with the knowledge that Michael didn’t approve this album, my curiosity won out.

And I’ve gotta say, the end result isn’t that bad.

Maybe I was expecting a trainwreck based on what I’d heard up to this point, but the fact of the matter is that Michael is a fairly decent piece of work. It’s no Off the Wall or Thriller. Hell, it’s not even a Bad or a Dangerous. But it’s also not a total embarrassment. The songs are relatively well-written, Michael (or “Michael”) is in good voice throughout, and even though I wish they hadn’t gone for modernized production and left the songs as is, that’s not too bad either.

There’s a good chance you’ve heard several of these songs before. Even before “Hold My Hand” got the full push as the project’s official single, it leaked on the internet prior to Michael’s passing. The midtempo “(I Love) The Way You Love Me” is only slightly remixed from the version that appeared on 2004’s box set The Ultimate Collection. Meanwhile, “Behind the Mask” has been previously recorded by Michael’s longtime keyboardist Greg Phillinganes (who co-wrote the song) as well as by Eric Clapton, and the rock-etched “(I Can’t Make It) Another Day” was retitled “Storm” and released by the song’s writer and producer, Lenny Kravitz, on his Baptism project five or so years ago. All four songs are good, but you definitely shouldn’t expect anything revelatory when you pick this album up.

Michael could’ve passed for a fairly cohesive MJ album if he were still alive (and if you were willing to ignore the obvious changes in his voice as the years progressed), but there are still issues. The production is uber-synthetic and turns out to be pretty disappointing, with the one major exception being the aforementioned Kravitz production, which booms with live drums courtesy of Dave Grohl (how ironic that the drummer for the band some consider to have symbolically upended Michael’s reign as King of Pop to wind up guest starring on an MJ record) and Jackson’s searing vocal. The squealing synths that characterize today’s pop don’t really fit Michael, even though what’s even more offensive is the fact that several of the new productions sound like warmed-over new jack swing-including a couple of disappointing shots from NJS creator Teddy Riley.

After all the nail-biting on my behalf about whether the material would be sub-standard, the only track on Michael that is immediate coaster material is “Breaking News”. After listening to the song multiple times, I’m still not convinced that those are all Michael’s vocals (especially on the verses). Why would anyone risk the chance of having their spot blown up by adding a faux Michael onto the song? Controversy, baby. Why else would that song have even been leaked, especially if it wasn’t an official single? The song’s subject matter doesn’t make it any better, and actually, the songs about persecution and snakes in the grass serve as a demerit on this album (as it has on every MJ album since “Dangerous”.) Yes, Michael, you were indeed the victim of media persecution. Doesn’t mean we want to hear you whine about it.

The guest appearances are kept to a minimum, thankfully. Besides Kravitz, there’s Akon’s appearance on “Hold My Hand” and a brief-and totally unnecessary- rap from 50 Cent on “Monster”. The album’s short running time (10 tracks at about 40 minutes) is also a blessing, especially when you consider that Mike’s last three albums could have used similar edits.

I may be an MJ super fan, but I can certainly be objective (unlike the yahoos I see on many fansites and message boards). Michael‘s absolutely not a groundbreaking album, but it’s probably one of the better posthumous albums that’s made its way out into the world recently. It’s not an essential pick up, but if you’re a Michael fan, it should make you happy.

Grade: B

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