Michael Jackson Couldn't Xscape

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Gather around cyber-youth, let me tell you a tale.

Oh, a 26 year old does get wistful on nights like this, frontlit by the harsh LED glow of a 2009 iMac and nursing a tall glass of water. But not too tall mind you, I don’t want to keep getting up in the night. When I was young, those were simpler times, the better times. Websites didn’t "respond dynamically", when you surfed the web on your single core smartphone, it booted you down to the "lite" view and that was just fine by us. If you wanted full website functionality, then you just had to scroll down the bottom by yourself, manually clicking the "desktop" option. And we had skeuomorphic design, and thats the way we liked it! There was no war. There wasn’t any crime. And no musical geniuses died from Propofol overdoses, not on our watch.

We didn’t have us no "Spotify" cloud subscription service streaming over LTE, no sir. We bought our music piecemeal, from iTunes, as the good lord intended. Why, I recall a time when you’d buy shiny compact discs ("disc" with a ‘c’) , "ripping" and "burning" to an internal spinning hard disk ("disk" with a ‘k’). You plugged in a cable to "sync" your portable media player, it’s true!

I had all Michael Jacksons music. My CD of "Dangerous" had a scratch on it from the day I bought it new, from an actual "record store". Imported to iTunes at 320kbps AAC, the digital file still skips and stutters like an authentic analog analogy.

"Dane-GER-GER-RUS!
The Girl is so DANE-GER-US!"

It sounds like a game of "Duck Duck Goose" on the International Space Station.

"I have to pray to GO-God,
cause I KNO-know how lust can blind,
it’s a passion in my soul,
but you’re no damn LOV-LOV-LOV-LOV- friend of mine!"

Long before you ingrates were snorting Krokodil while listening to "MC Fresh and Tha Twerk Brothers" through "Boomsound" speakers, there was this thing called REAL music. And skipping or not, the realest of them all was Michael Jackson, the King of Pop.

I was there with MJ, through the good, the "Bad" and the "Dangerous". Ok ok, I was born in 1987 so I can’t claim to have been there from his "Thriller" days. But DAMNIT man, I was there as he made "HIStory"! I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. I’ve played "Moonwalker" on a friends Sega Master System II and Mega Drive. Forget about you kids and your Surface R-T’s and YouTube celeb M-K-B-H-D’s. I saw MJ’s movie on VHS tape, played on a Sony Trinitron CRT. Michael Jackson saving kids from Mr Big’s "bugs and drugs"? Incredible, give the man an Oscar!

I’ve read the ghostwritten autobiography "Moonwalker", seen "Ghosts", and watched "Captain EO" too. It would be fair to call me a Michael Jackson fan.

And here we are tonight, five years after Michael Jackson died, and I’m sipping water while shuddering about "Moonwalker’s crap Beatle’s ending song. I don’t care if the man DID just turn into a car, a robot spaceship and killed all the bad guys with their red 1980’s LED bullet counting assault rifles. If "he" can put out albums to this day, surely we can posthumously confiscate one of his Grammys due to that wretched "Come Together" cover?

That’s the point we’ve come to, where the prodigy has hit a career apogee. Not to generalise, but death tends to impede an artists's creativity. Any "new" releases only tarnish his life’s achievements like rust on a Grammy or a bad Beatles cover at the end of "Moonwalker".

What would this new release of old unreleases bring? Another forgettable "Michael"? Or something that would make us truly remember the good old days, when Motorola, Nokia and Palm were alive, and so was Michael Jackson?

The new posthumously released "Xscape" is a mixed bag. It showcases Michael Jackson at his best and brightest in tracks like "Love Never Felt So Good" and "Loving You". He's a young man all about love. Never doubt MJ’s connection to the emotion, he owns love like Apple owns The Rectangle and multi-touch. "Paul, I think I told you, I'm a lover not a fighter". It was believable too, when he kindly chose to advertise a Japanese scooter, out of the goodness of his heart. As he double-blinks at the end, we understand how "love is [his] message", and how a 1980’s 50cc Suzuki is a total babe magnet.

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New track "Chicago" gives a shoutout to Chris Ziegler's former metropolis, while having a sassiness reminiscent of TLC's "No Scrubs". (Did MJ and Janet ever sue them for ripping off the "Scream" video?)

"She lied to you lied to me
cause she was lovin me lovin me
yeah (she was lovin me)
she tried to give a double life
lovin me while she was still your wife (she was wantin me)
she thought that lovin me was right (she was lovin me)
while you at work and the kids at night (she was lovin me)"

But the "Xscape" album is also a bag of hurt worse than Joe Jackson trying to sell Blu ray discs to reporters just three days after his son had died. "Do You Know Where Your Children Are" has Michael sing about child abuse:

"She wrote that she's tired of step daddy using her,
saying that he'll buy her things,
while sexually abusing her".

It's outrageous - did anyone at Sony listen to this posthumous release of a beloved musical icon, who was the punchline of every child abuse joke since 1993? Couldn't that line be censored? Changed into something that wouldn't once again assassinate Jackson's character? Couldn't they let him "xscape" the horrible rumours and accusations in death? Apparently not. Having MJ sing about sexual abuse would be like OJ writing a book about being guilty, a really bad idea.

Regardless of how good the other tracks may be, "Slave to the Rhythm" and title track "Xscape" further show the Michael Jackson personality change. No more singing about "pretty young things", the man became paranoid.

"Everywhere I turn, no matter where I look
The systems in control, it's all ran by the book
I've got to get away so I can clear my mind,
Xscape is what I need,
Away from electric eyes"

"When I go, this problem world won't bother me no more".


Jackson's publicly sold requests for privacy didn't buy him any piece of mind, even five years after death. Having had issues with Sony music since leaving the label with "Invincible", MJ went on a tirade against Sony Music and executive Tommy Motolla, comparing him to the devil:

"The tradition of great performers, from Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown to Jackie Wilson to Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly...The story is usually the same though, you know, these guys worked really hard, and they're crabbed, for the story ends the same. They usually are broken, torn and usually just sad... because the companies take advantages of them, they really do."

"Being the artist that I am, at Sony I've generated several billion dollars for Sony. Several billon. They really thought that my mind is always on music and dancing, it usually is, but they never thought.... that this performer myself would out think them.
We can't let them get away with what they're trying to do, because now I'm a free agent. I just owe Sony one more album, it's just a box set, really, with two new songs which I've written ages ago. Because for every album that I record, I write like, literally, I'm telling you the truth, I write.... I write at least 120 songs every album I do, so... I can do the box set, just giving them any two songs.
So I'm leaving Sony, a free agent... owning half of Sony, I own half of Sony's Publishing... And I'm leaving them, and they... they're very angry at me, because I, I just... I just did good business, you know.
So the way they get revenge is to try and destroy my album. But I've always said, you know... art, good art, never dies."

Surprisingly, Sony reportedly paid $250 million dollars to the Jackson Estate for a ten posthumous project deal. Xscape's "Slave to the Rhythm" suggests the artist's life-after-death business relationship with music label Sony:

"She danced the night that they fell out
She swore she'd dance no more
But then she did, he did not quit as she ran out the door"

Despite publicly protesting with a "$ony Kills Music" sign only a few years before his death, Michael Jackson's track "Slave to the Rhythm" is being used to launch the Sony Xperia Z2. The New Zealand launch of "Xscape" will also feature Xperia Z2 giveaways, with Sony also copying Samsung's "web crashing" Jay Z album giveaway.

Yes, it's grim when an artist has no control over their creative work, when a corporation can own your voice, name and likeness even after death. But for a bunch of unreleased songs slapped together to sell Sony Minidiscs, "Xscape" does have it's gems.

Simply put, "A Place With No Name" is the biggest club banger since "Crazy Frog". It's a bigger hazard to woodworkers than the "Verge Mobile Show" intro. The original Jackson demo ripped off "A Horse With No Name", for years I was teased with this twenty second leaked demo. To finally have the full song is incredible!

The retro instrumental track has been tossed aside, replaced with funky Norwegian production team "Stargate". Forget about the first verse's flat tyred Jeep that "began to rock". This track thumps. It bangs. It slams. It pops molly. This version screams contemporary music.

"She started likin' me kissin' me and huggin' me
She didn't really, really want me to leave
She showed me places I've never seen, things I've never done
This place really looks like a lotta fun

I seen the grass and the sky and the birds
And the flowers surrounded by the trees
This place is filled with love and happiness
and not a world could I wanna leave"

The song "Thriller" was great, but make no mistake - THIS is the funk of 40,000 years. Or, at least of 2014.

Around the 3 minute mark, "A Place With No Name" is White Michael Jackson at his finest. Smooth vocals with great variety, Jackson expresses emotions including wonder, lust, the term "doggone" and his trademark love. Don't try to fight it, there ain't nothing that you can do. You've got to feel that beat...and dance like Oprah.

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Michael Jackson "Xscape"

3 stars

Thriller:

+ "Love Never Felt So Good" (If you liked Daft Punk's "Random Access Memories", you'll love crooning MJ)

+ "Loving You" ("’stead of goin’ out to some res-taurant, I’ll stay home in bed…")

+ "A Place With No Name" (Great production, smooth vocals, a brilliant example of Michael Jackson’s music)

Filler:

- "Slave to the Rhythm" (producer "Timbo" background shouts of "SLAVE! SLAVE TO THA RHYTHM!" )

- "Do You Know Where Your Children Are" (Who the hell left the "sexually abusing her" line in?)