When I heard about Xscape, the second posthumous Michael Jackson album (the first being 2010’s disappointing, “Michael”), I didn’t have great expectations. Jackson was such a perfectionist when he was alive, so I’m always a bit weary about hearing unreleased songs from him in particular, because I know they never got to the level of excellence that he would’ve wanted them to be.
However, Jackson’s longtime producer/collaborator, L.A. Reid, is at the helm of the album and picked only songs that MJ had done multiple takes of, to ensure the tracks selected for the album were ones of the best quality, and ones that Jackson likely would’ve released himself. With production from Reid, Timbaland, Rodney Jerkins, and Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon (some of the producers Jackson worked with when he was alive), the album manages to sound fresh despite its material being decades old, and still carries Jackson’s signature sound.
Lead single, “Love Never Felt So Good” sounds like Vintage MJ; the disco-esque music and Jackson’s deeper vocals are a good indicator that the track was indeed recorded in the early 80’s. Meanwhile, songs like “Chicago” and the title track, “Xscape” have an edgier, 90’s MJ sound; both tracks are heavy with percussion, flashy synthesizers, and lyrics from the perspective of a scorned lover. “Slave To The Rhythm” is a catchy dance track ala “Blood on the Dance Floor “, while “Blue Gangsta” plays as a sexier, updated version of “Smooth Criminal.”
“A Place With No Name” samples the America song, “A Horse with No Name” and sounds every bit as weird as you’d imagine, despite being undeniably catchy. The only iffy songs on the album are “Loving You” and “Do You Know Where Your Children Are?”; the former just sounds a bit too R&B-lite for my tastes, while the latter is awkward not just because of the irony of Jackson’s abuse allegations, but also due to its corny lyrics (“Do you know where your children are/Because it’s now 12 o’clock/And they’re somewhere out on the street/Just imagine how scared they are”).
The deluxe version of the album also includes the original versions of the 8 tracks, as well as “Love Never Felt So Good” performed as a duet between Jackson and the heir to his pop music throne, Justin Timberlake. Though the duet may be the stuff of Timberlake’s dreams, it’s really not as fantastic as you’d expect; the chemistry is lost due to the fact that the duet was made after Jackson’s death, and the song just lacks a certain something to make it stand out much, even with Timberlake’s added vocals.
For the most part, Xscape is a great album. The updated versions of the songs are done justice by the producers, and I think the album is one Michael would be proud of if he were still around to see it be released.
1. Love Never Felt So Good
3. Loving You
4. A Place with No Name
5. Slave to the Rhythm
6. Do You Know Where Your Children Are
7. Blue Gangsta
9. Love Never Felt So Good [Original Version]
10. Chicago [Original Version]
11. Loving You [Original Version]
12. A Place with No Name [Original Version]
13. Slave to the Rhythm [Original Version]
14. Do You Know Where Your Children Are [Original Version]
15. Blue Gangsta [Original Version]
16. Xscape [Original Version]
17. Love Never Felt So Good [Featuring Michael Jackson & Justin Timberlake]