Flash back to where you were on June 25, 2009, when the news of Michael Jackson’s death swept the globe. Think back to the unity all of us felt when we spun his records and copied his moves once again, as a society, as though the clock had never passed 1987. It was a good feeling; the music we all love, whether it’s Michael’s or someone else’s, does a really good job making us feel less alone in the universe. It’s why I’m typing this, and likely why you’re reading this, too.
Since that endless summer, Jackson superfans have clamored for anything that would remind us of that feeling. The This is It documentary came close, but we’ll never know if the public truly would have re-embraced Michael on that never-begun residency in London. And last December’s much-ballyhooed album of posthumous material, Michael, was marred by overproduction and the stomach-churning suspicions that the songs weren’t all sung by Jackson.
It can finally be said, though, that there is something new to remind us of the good times, of the music we grew up with and still hold dear. That something is Immortal, the soundtrack to the Jackson estate-approved Cirque du Soleil attraction of the same name.
In the tradition of the astounding Love by The Beatles and the underwhelming Viva Elvis,the Immortal show takes the eye-popping iconography of Jackson’s career, paints it with the wild pallette of the Cirque du Soleil experience and – most importantly – devises a soundtrack from a patchwork of tracks from MJ’s discography, remixed and mashed up to greet your eardrums anew.
Part of the success of Immortal comes from its emphasis less on “greatest hits” and more on Jackson’s best material. That’s how you get late-’70s jams like “Working Day and Night” or Jacksons-era classics like “This Place Hotel” in the mix, not to mention a handful of Jackson 5 tracks licensed from the kind folks at Motown. The idea of mashing stuff up isn’t overused, and when it shows up, you can’t help but grin. (The rap from the “Bad” video over the “State of Shock” riff? Michael’s impassioned vocal from “Can You Feel It” mixed with “Black or White”? Those are pretty inspired, if you ask me.)
And, by virtue of the mixes and the tasteful production by musical director Kevin Antunes, there are a few great moments when familiar songs take a turn for the unexpected. Sharp-eared fans will hear alternate sections of Eddie Van Halen’s “Beat It” guitar solo, a multitude of buried-deep rhythmic vocal tics and even pretty pieces of music that Jackson didn’t really have anything to do with, like Elmer Bernstein’s skin-crawling underscore for the “Thriller” video. Anyone who thought a song like “They Don’t Care About Us” was a bit too heavy-handed might change their tune when they hear it on Immortal, where Michael’s “woo”s and “hee”s counterpoint a newly-added, stomping gospel choir.
It’s hard not to get caught up in the masterful music of Michael Jackson. You’ve probably thought that a million times, and with the fresh reinterpretations on Immortal, your Jacksonian joy counter is about to go to a million and one.
Immortal is available in standard and deluxe editions in stores and through all major music retailers today. A full stream of the standard edition is available through NPR.