Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Is No 'Michael' Preferable to a Flawed Version?

The cover of Michael Jackson's latest album, the posthumous "Michael," above, features a crown in its proper place. Photo from

HEAD’S UP: December again already. It’s the gifting season, which means more things to do with less time to do them in. Don’t despair. At VEVLYN’S PEN, we are here to help. For the next week or so — 12 days before Christmas ending on 22 Dec. — each day we will introduce a product/item, brand or nifty shop that we believe is worthy of consideration for those very special gifts.

Gift Idea No. 12 - the finale:

world, of course, loves and is still mourning Michael Jackson. Is it any wonder, then that the posthumous record, “Michael,” is the word’s No. 1 album at the moment. It was released on 14 Dec.

Last week a few hundred lucky New Yorkers were invited to the Roseland Ballroom where DJ Cassidy played MJ hits, dating to the Jackson 5. The actual reason for the gathering, however, was a listening party to celebrate the worldwide release of “Michael,” the next day.

The release has been the source of controversy because MJ died before it was finished. Critics, including the legendary Quincy Jones and MJ uber-collaborator, believe the record should not have been released for this reason. Many in favor of the release, except for fans, stand to gain financially from its release. Understandably, their sanctioning its release would be questioned by some.

Opinions, notwithstanding, the record is out. To buy or not to buy, that is the question. Surely, millions who haven’t heard it are curious, that includes the more than 25 million who stopped by the MJ Web site ( where before its release they could listen to the whole album, then preorder it.

Yours Truly has listened and listened and listened to the CD that she came into possession of at a certain listening party. Below are my thoughts – track by track – of the 10 songs, featuring three guest artists:

Photo from

TRACK 1. HOLD MY HAND (DUET WITH AKON) – Akon reminds fans in the liner notes that parts of this track were leaked before it was finished. He assures fans that they can now “hear it the way it was meant to be heard.” The lyrics are simple, uncomplicated and intelligible. MJ and Akon harmonize well together. It’s a good song in the spirit of “Rock with You.” Not a bad start. (Listen:; See/hear:

TRACK 2. HOLLYWOOD TONIGHT – Included in the liner notes are what are supposed to be personal notes written by MJ. About “Hollywood Tonight,” he scribbles, “… Runaway age 15 she dreams of fame riches … Her mission is to make it in Hollywood … the obstacles … are unbearable but she makes against her parents will = a true … based on a true story.”

The song starts off with chanting. Then scat-like sounds. A note from one instrument – a guitar perhaps – followed by too many to count. Danny Ray McDonald, Jr. and Michael Durham Prince should take a bow for some extra fine whistling. It sounds like a horn making a whistling sound rather than humans. The spoken word in the bridge by Taryll Jackson (no relation) heightens the drama as he recounts the pitfalls facing those seeking Hollywood fame. The arrangement is fantastic. “Hollywood Tonight” is catchy, engaging and thoroughly danceable. It will be huge in the clubs and on radio. All within earshot will be singing the hook: She’s going Hollywood/She’s going Hollywood tonight/She’s going Hollywood/She’s going Hollywood tonight/She’s going Hollywood/She’s going Hollywood tonight/It’s true, that you, may never ever have that chance again.

TRACK 3. KEEP YOUR HEAD UP – Though it is an inspirational anthem, "Keep Your Head Up" is terribly disjointed. It starts off recounting the travails of a jobless, single mother; from there man is destroying the environment, then all the world needs is love, and finally it is important to make every moment count, as the days are not promised. A mix of MJ’s velvety pop alto and a church choir give it a slight gospel tint as it nears the end, which is the best part of the song. It’s tight and goosebump-inducing with Michael and the chorus overlapping the hook and the last verse: Keeping your head up to the sky/Keeping your mind up stay alive/Gimme your wings so we can fly/ … I need your love/ I need you now/I need your light right here today/I need you now.

TRACK 4. (I LIKE) THE WAY YOU LOVE ME – A perfect companion for “She’s Out of My Life.” Think of “(I Like) The Way You Love Me” as the before and the former as the after. Vintage MJ in ballad mode. One of the best tracks on the record; it sounds finished, too.

Photo from Getty Pictures.

TRACK 5. MONSTER (FEATURING 50 CENT) – This one might have been on “Thriller" or "Bad.” “Monster (Featuring 50 Cent)” would be a perfectly fine funk/soul ditty, but for two poor marks: 50 Cent, whose rapping adds nothing to the track. Nothing! Elsewhere, one lyric in the hook, He’s an animal, sounds cringy-worthy odd with the others, He’s a monster/He’s a monster ... Back to the drawing board.

TRACK 6 BEST OF JOY – This is the track on every CD that is serviceable. It doesn’t stir emotions too much one way or the other. It’s squarely middle of the pack. “Best of Joy” will probably be on Side B of the album.

TRACK 7. BREAKING NEWS – Apparently, MJ didn’t completely have his say with “Leave Me Alone.” Here’s another screed against the media for its intense scrutiny of him. On “Leave Me Alone” he was angry, and rightfully so. With “Breaking News,” he is resigned. He’s rolling with the go. The main instruments, which lend the song a whimsical, teasing quality are the cymbals and the strings of The Benjamin Wright Orchestra. MJ is both amused and perturbed by the media elements that have a beef with him: Everybody watching the news on/Michael Jackson/They wanna see that I fall cause I’m/Michael Jackson/You write the words to destroy like/it’s a weapon. He is aware, too, of how technology has given birth to the 24-hour news cycle, No matter what/You wanna read it again/No matter what/You just wanna feed it again.

Photo from

TRACK 8. (I CAN MAKE IT) ANOTHER DAY (FEATURING LENNY KRAVITZ)I walked away but I was wrong/I can’t make it another day/You’re the one that makes me strong/I can’t make it another day/ You’re the fire that keeps me warm/I can’t make it another day/How did I get through this storm/I can’t live another day without your love … MJ’s vocals. LK’s electric guitar, lyrics and background vocals. The cymbals. LENNY’S ELECTRIC GUITAR. ROCK it ooouuut! The best vocal collaboration on the record and one of the best of MJ’s career … (See/hear:

TRACK 9. BEHIND THE MASK – Most of the songs on the record have a prelude. One of the most arresting is courtesy of Mike Phillips' sexy, sultry, seductive saxophone (with cheers laid underneath) on rocking, pulsing “Behind the Mask” about a woman who may or may not be deceiving a man besotted with her. MP brings the sax sexy back several times, including at the bridge before MJ picks up again with one of the most muscular vocals on the record. Listen for this one, too, in the clubs and on radio ... Who do you love?/Is it me? Well?/I don’t know/Who do you love?/You know me … LOVE it.

TRACK 10. MUCH TOO SOON – The tempo, understandably is downbeat on this ballad, about the loss of love. Speckled with harmonica and accordion, “Much to Soon” is the record’s sole country-pop track. It is engaging, and the lyrics are tender. A stronger closer, however, would have been something like “(I Can Make It) Another Day (Featuring Lenny Kravitz)” or “Behind the Mask.”

Doubtless, MJ would have made some tweaks to “Michael” because he is a perfectionist. The record is not “MJ perfect” but it is good – far and away better than many finished records on the market. Does that mean that fans should not buy it? That is for each individual to decide for him/herself.

Millions the world over have already spoken ... Who do you love? Is it he? Well?

”Michael” is available wherever CDS are sold and also various places on line, including the official Michael Jackson store run by distributor, Sony,; Amazon and Target,, Search: Michael.

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