There are so many non-music elements attached to Michael, the first posthumous collection of new material from Michael Jackson, that it’s almost impossible to review simply as a new piece of music. Plenty of words have already been exchanged about the album’s legitimacy (many declared that they were certain that Jackson’s voice was not on the single “Breaking News,” for example) and about the readiness of these songs (many have pointed out that they were probably never previously released for legitimate reasons). Plus, it’s awfully difficult to release much of anything once you’ve already dropped classics like Thriller and Off the Wall, something that Jackson struggled with for most of the latter part of his career.
Still, taken in a vacuum, Michael appears to be an interesting (if not entirely satisfying) entry in Jackson’s long and storied history. Many of the reviews seem to exist in a very neutral place, as though most were expecting the album to be much worse than it actually is. For example, the venerable Stephen Thomas Erlewine gave the album two-and-a-half stars on AllMusic.com, summing it up thusly: “Michael is often tacky but considering how garish Jackson’s taste could be, it winds up seeming almost respectful. At the very least, the album doesn’t tarnish his legacy, although it adds nothing to it either.”
In her review for Entertainment Weekly, writer Leah Greenblatt came to a similar conclusion. “As musical epitaphs go, Michael is a solid album, arguably stronger than Invincible and certainly no great affront to his name. But it can be hard to listen and not wonder what he would have done differently — or if he would have wanted us to hear it at all.”
Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune also notes that, “One wonders what the perfectionist in Jackson would’ve thought of the music released in his name on Michael … It’s not that Michael is embarrassing, it’s just below par, a warehouse for songs that languished in the vaults for decades because they didn’t quite measure up.”
At least one critic — the Associated Press’ Nekesa Mumbi Moody — was extremely enthusiastic about the material on Michael. “Michael should then be judged for what it is: a snapshot of Jackson’s musical thought process — Photoshopped and airbrushed, but still enjoyable,” wrote Moody. “Michael does nothing to detract from Jackson’s amazing legacy and, if anything, gives us a little bit more to cherish, however imperfect.”
But most critics seem simultaneously relieved that the album isn’t a total disaster and let down that it isn’t as good as some of Jackson’s best work (a strange tone, indeed). “Only the surprisingly gutsy ’Hollywood Tonight’ does anything to assuage the feeling that, quite aside from his personal life, Jackson had been in an artistic tailspin for years before his death,” wrote The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis. “That seems of a piece with the inadvertent message that Michael sends out: try as you might, you can’t rewrite history.”
What do you think of the new Michael Jackson album? Let us know in the comments!