Album reviews: Michael Jackson, DiddyBy Reverb Staff | December 14th, 2010 | No Comments »
Michael Jackson, “Michael” (Epic)
It’s OK to seek solace in the warmth of Michael Jackson’s voice on “Michael,” his first CD of new material in nine years.
It’s also fine to feel dirty while listening to the disc, a collection of 10 songs cobbled together since the King of Pop’s unusual death in June 2009.
“Michael” creates a conundrum similar to that of the release of the film “This Is It” last fall, just a few months after Jackson’s death, and that is no coincidence. With the film, we couldn’t not watch it. Jackson remains that magnetic a personality. We, as a world, watched intently.
I saw the film in New Zealand in a theater packed full of Kleenex-wielding Kiwis in mourning. We were still in awe of his talent. And we felt guilty about viewing concert-rehearsal footage, because we were watching something he never meant for us to see.
The feel-good notes surrounding the release of “Michael” often try to sidestep the fact that these songs were finished posthumously. From the press materials: “Using the roadmap Michael provided with his notes, his voice and the creative ideas he had shared, they (the producers) took the songs left by Michael in various stages of production and completed the album. Here is Michael’s work, brought to life by them.”
It’s nice and all, but even Jackson’s casual fans are aware of the artist’s intense, perfectionist work ethic and his legendary, controlling personality when it came to his music. Is this really “Michael’s work?” Kind of. But should we settle for kind of?
If you’re the kind of fan who demands new MJ jams, you don’t have much choice. There are parts of “Michael” that sound like him. His recent work is marked by inconsistency, sprinkled with genius and riddled with anachronistic ’80s pop sensibilities — and “Michael” is all of those things.
His work with rapper 50 Cent is wildly incoherent, a missed attempt at Lady Gaga’s postmodern zeitgeist. But his collaboration with Lenny Kravitz, “(I Can’t Make It) Another Day,” is the strongest song on the record — a throwback to a “Bad”-era Jackson who still defined American pop/rock sensibilities.
There’s a difference between demo-ing a song — even bringing a track into post-production — and deciding to include it on the final product. Many artists will finish a song only to cut it from the record. Jackson was known for a discerning ear when judging his own work.
Yes, he was obsessed with his public image, but it’s hard to imagine a world where he would have let the ridiculous “Breaking News” out in its current form. And “Keep Your Head Up” has all the good intentions in the world, but it’s still a failed R&B jam.
The record’s anthemic single is “Hold My Hand,” a collaboration with Akon, and it’s a natural hit — thanks in part to the smart, modern, dub-tinged production that makes the song sound like something off a Rhianna record. Cheers to Akon for modernizing Jackson’s inimitable style — and to Kravitz, too, for lending his slinky brand of funk to the Jackson camp.
The Kravitz song, which features Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl on drums, helps bring “Michael” to an unusually strong close — with the help of “Behind the Mask,” a smart update on the Yellow Magic Orchestra song of the same name.
It’s not what we would have gotten from Jackson, but some fans will argue that it’s better than reissues of older material. –Ricardo Baca
Diddy Dirty Money, “Last Train to Paris” (Bad Boy Entertainment)
The rap landscape has drastically changed since the days Diddy went by Puff Daddy and verbally accosted his listeners with horrendous rhymes. Fortunately, on “Last Train to Paris” Diddy spends the majority of his time focused on the production side and leaves the rapping to quite the ensemble of guests — including Usher, Lil Wayne, Justin Timberlake, Drake, Trey Songz and of course his old friend, Biggie. Nearly every single track on the record features at least one major talent from the present hip hop circuit.
For all the star power and well-orchestrated backgrounds, the album, at times, sounds a bit rushed in the lyrics department. Lil Wayne and Justin Timberlake appear together on “Shade,s” which seems like a waste with only one memorable line: “If you want, I will make love on marmalade.” (At least for Lil Wayne’s sake he gets the opportunity to redeem himself later on the record.) As much as Diddy enjoys including the Notorious B.I.G. on every one of his albums, doing so here simply does not seem right. B.I.G.’s incredible talent relied upon his ability to match his flow to any beat. With every canned set of B.I.G. rhymes that Diddy remixes to new backgrounds, he simply cheapens his friend’s legacy.
Much like a chameleon, Diddy’s sound adapts and changes with the environment. “Last Train” features backgrounds which mix beats and synthesizers to create a very contemporary pop/hip hop sound. The backgrounds share some of the same characteristics of Kanye West’s latest work, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” with a little less grandiose ambition. –Greg Stieber
Greg Stieber is a Denver freelance writer and regular contributor to Reverb.