Cap turned to the side. Plasters on his fingertips. Shirt open. Nose pointed in the air. A white undershirt with his ribs visible. A hysterical howling: Aaaaaaaaah! 360º turn. Nuclear socks leaving a wake in the air behind them. Black loafers moving as fast as the wings of a hummingbird. In simple terms, God. You don’t need much of a nose (excuse the easy joke) to sniff out brilliance when it’s right in front of your face. Michael Jackson might have been whatever you say, but just looking at him you knew he was a star. He was in another league, one that nobody else has ever managed to play in. I laugh at the Beatles. I laugh at U2. I laugh at Lady Gaga. I laugh at Abba. I laugh in their faces. Jacko was way bigger than all of them, bigger than Jesus Christ –John Lennon, you made a mistake, dude– a wormhole in the pop space-time continuum that will never be repeated, and which turned fans, the industry, musicians, singers, and any rational creature who crossed the imaginary path of his moon-walking upside down.
Having said this, the question is very simple: Is it really necessary to resuscitate old recordings in order to squeeze even more out of the legend? The easy answer: I don’t give a shit. It’s entirely fair and respectable that his heirs make as much money as possible from his legacy, of course. And if not, just ask Priscilla Presley. Or Tupac’s family. At this stage of the game, it’s pitiful to cling to the argument that marketing and money-grubbing with a hug progressive stereotype would be spreading it on too thick. However many opportunistic MJ albums are released and even if they sit there counting the bills on top of his grave, the guy will still be the King of Pop, the black guy that all the white guys wanted to be, or the white guy that all of the black guys wanted to become. In fact, it seems much more scandalous and unacceptable to me that he was subjected to so much psychological abuse and ridicule during his final years—hell, we are scandalised over nothing and then we’re the first ones to find the cash seductive, even if it’s stained with blood. On top of that, as if this weren’t enough, the best of all is that these ten post-mortem songs aren’t the insult that many had foreseen, either. In fact, all of the cuts sound perfectly finished and chiselled out in the studio, and although they are closer to Jacko’s more recent (and less inspired) postulates, they stand on their own and form what could perfectly well be called a legitimate album from the master, if he were still alive. There are interesting things in “Michael”, there is more respect in this album for the man than there was from the assholes who decided to crucify him for his milky skin, his shrinking nose, and his questionable proclivities. And that is saying a lot.
“Hollywood Tonight” has the disco-funk nerve of his post-melanin phase: uptempo, more strings and woodwind than you can shake a stick at, sifted background choruses, trademark beat-boxing–achookipook achikoopook– and MJ going off on the verses with his unmistakeable rapacious style. Teddy Riley and Neff-U’s production is polished, shining, and it smells like expensive VIP room air freshener; it perfectly exemplifies the tone of the LP. “Keep Your Head Up” is the classic Jackson ballad. “Monster” is a great cut, offering passages that call to mind the best moments of “Smooth Criminal” –I love the sound of broken glass– and it only has one problem: the absurd, unnecessary rapping of 50 Cent, who really has nothing to do with this pop mess. “Breaking News”, another brilliant track, follows the same line of R&B excellence, and on top of that, MJ takes pleasure in getting back at everybody who dissed him: “Everybody wanting a piece of Michael Jackson,” he says with his teeth clenched. At this point, the duet that looks to be most grotesque –with Lenny Kravitz, no more or less– ends up becoming a very decent shower of melodic soft-rock, ideal for car advertisements. The single with Akon, “Hold My Hand”, isn’t disappointing either: a classic sickly-sweet song with violins and pianos in the Clayderman style, it’s a perfect torpedo for hitting the Christmas charts.
Nevertheless, it is odd and revealing that the best piece is the one that MJ cooks up all by himself. Without help. Without raps. Without outdated duets. “Behind the Mask” is a delicious chaos of robotic funk with touches of psychedelic electronic music, a magnificent melody, and a deliciously kitsch sax that smells like the same hairspray that Kenny G and Michael Bolton use. This is the proof that when he wanted to, Jacko was capable of recovering even just a tiny particle of the flame that made all of us dream of a sequin-covered glove and the best footwork in the history of music. Dah!