AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
When he died in June 2009, Michael Jackson left behind a trove of unfinished recordings - some were released on the 2010 album "Michael," but many more were left behind. Jackson's label went through that leftover material, and asked top music producers to finish the King of Pop's ideas. The result is called "Xscape," and it's been released this week.
Reviewer Tom Moon says the Deluxe Edition includes versions of the songs in the form Jackson left them. Moon says they provide a rare glimpse into Jackson's creative process.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "XSCAPE")
TOM MOON, BYLINE: When it comes to posthumous releases by major stars, the music business doesn't exactly have a stellar track record. Think about the contrived duets between Natalie Cole and her departed dad, Nat King Cole. So I approached this new collection of unreleased material from the King of Pop with caution.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "XSCAPE")
MOON: There's no mistaking that voice. That fervent intensity he brought to every line. I can't lie: It's nice to hear. Still, there's reason to wince about this project - it's devoted to material that Jackson worked on for various albums, but didn't finish, or elected not to share. Making matters worse, these tracks don't represent Jackson's vision alone: label president LA Reid commissioned producers to "contemporize" - his word - Jackson's demos to appeal to the current market. This is apparently what he meant.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLUE GANGSTA")
MOON: That might be the album's low point. Here's the album's opening track, a song written by Jackson and legendary songwriter Paul Anka. It's a sweet reminder of Jackson's talent.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE NEVER FELT")
MOON: The Deluxe version also includes the raw demos - before they were contemporized.
(SOUNDBITE OF DEMO, "LOVE NEVER FELT")
MOON: Even in what sounds like a rehearsal situation, Jackson manages to convey the heart of the song. He nails all the twists of the melody. His passion sells it - you forget it's not a final take. At times he sounds like he's flashing back to Motown days, and recalling the influence of Stevie Wonder.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE NEVER FELT" FINAL VERSION)
MOON: The set tells us something else about Michael Jackson: He struggled to escape the long shadow of "Thriller." On his subsequent records, songs that sounded too similar to his hits didn't make the cut. Several of these appear on this new release. They're not earth-shattering compositions but they are solid, and exhilarating in spots, certainly more than just vault scraps.
You can hear Jackson really pouring energy into them, doing his best to lift them up. It's those performances that make this a valuable postscript to Jackson's legacy.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR CHILDREN ARE")
CORNISH: The latest from Michael Jackson is called "Xscape." Our critic, Tom Moon, reviewed the Deluxe Edition of the album.
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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
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