Monday, 8 November 2010

Voices from beyond the grave

Despite the persistent rumours that he was in dire financial straits, the revelation that Michael Jackson was almost half a billon in debt when he died, shocked everyone. $400 million? How many giant Egyptian vases did he buy?

But like all those dodgy husbands in Ashley Judd thrillers, Michael's management knew he was worth more dead than alive. So it's hardly surprising that in the first 12 months since he died, his estate earned over $275 million. This was one cloud with a gold-plated lining. And if he'd still been alive, Michael would probably have bought six of them.

So now the albums have been repackaged, the movie has been released, and the souvenir plates have been printed and shipped. What's left to sell?

Well, how about all those discarded demos and unreleased snippets - the sweepings from the studio floor.  Don't worry, those canny record label execs are one step ahead of you, and have managed to cobble together an entire album of 'previously unheard' material.

The output of this exercise in cynical grave-robbing keeping Michael's memory alive will be released on December 14. In the meantime, you can head over to and hear 'Breaking News', the lead single from the album.

The King of Pop may be but a distant memory, but the new track sounds just as derivative and repetitive as if he was still here with us - burying a lack of ideas and well-ground axe in a soup of over-produced rhythms. The song opens with a series of melodramatic audio samples from (fictionalised) news reports about Jackson himself. By the time the main part of the song kicks in, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were listening to second-rate mid-nineties album track 'Tabloid Junkie'.

However, when Michael starts singing you know you're in all-new territory. Largely because it doesn't really sound like Michael Jackson. Dig past the "propulsive, robotic... thumping, skittering beat" (I've got a headache just writing about it) and the "lively strings", and you'll be hard pressed to identify who's singing.

All his stylistic ticks, whoops and hiccups are present and correct, but it all just sounds a little too synthesized. Perhaps that's why Jackson's own family have questioned the song's legitimacy - alleging that the vocals were performed by an impersonator. Michael's nephew TJ claimed on Twitter "Sampled breaths after sampled breaths mixed in with fake vocals to try to fool u They said this is 100% my Uncle. Not 70, 80 or 90 but a 100%. Every line, every word. My Uncle's legacy didn't deserve this!"

Sony were quick to defend themselves against the accusations, stating "complete confidence in the results of our extensive research as well as the accounts of those who were in the studio with Michael that the vocals on the new album are his own."

But does it really matter? After all, maybe all the fans want is the illusion. During his lifetime Michael Jackson became a caricature of himself - from the dancing and vocals to the image and styling. So it wouldn't be too hard to keep generating MJ-style output to keep the hungry fans satiated. A little like the publishing empire that built up around the legacy of author V.C. Andrews after she died.

As Michael himself once promised: "I can thrill you more than any ghost would ever dare try..."

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