Album Review: XScape (Deluxe), Michael Jackson (MJJ Productions, 2014)

michael-jackson-xscape Michael Jackson is the exception to my musical mantra, “great music lives on the margins.” The King of Pop is dead centre mainstream, as far from the margins as can be. And he’s great.

This second posthumous album of previously unreleased material was compiled by L.A. Reid of Epic Records. It’s hard to question the authenticity of the first posthumous release, Michael (MJJ Productions, 2010). It came only a year after his death and has some fine material like the breezy love song, “(I Like) The Way that you Love Me.” But news of a second release came across, at least to me, as a desperate raiding of unreleased recordings that the artist chose not to share with his audience.

Happily, XScape is worthy of Jackson’s catalogue. Most of the songs date back to the 1990’s, from sessions recorded for his Invincible (1991, MJJ Productions) and Dangerous (2001, MJJ Productions) albums. A couple date back to the eighties, including the Paul Anka penned hit, “Love Never Felt So Good,” originally released by Johnny Mathis in 1984. Jackson’s version will surely be a hit as the summer of 2014 unfolds.

In the category of #TotallyUnnecessary, a duet version of “Love Never Felt So Good” with Justin Timberlake adds very little to the album. As fine a showman as Timberlake is, MJ doesn’t need help.

The Jackson originals are all great selections. The production team, lead by Timbaland, used an even hand in giving the tracks a contemporary edginess while letting Jackson’s style ground the entire project. The Deluxe version is worth the upgrade, if only to hear the originals in their raw form. I prefer the original version of “A Place with No Name” to the amped up album version with treatment from Norwegian production team Stargate.

Michael Jackson is one of those artists whose loss is more enduring than others. XScape ably satisfies a jonesing that pop music lovers have had since his untimely death.