Michael Jackson’s 'Xscape': What the Critics Are Saying

 

Hard to believe that, as of June 25, Michael Jackson will have been dead five years, but thanks to John Branca, his estate continues to churn out product. Xscape, released on Antonio “L.A.” Reid’s Epic Records, is the late superstar’s second posthumous album, following 2010’s Michael, which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard charts, with first-week sales of 228,000 copies. The This Is It soundtrack, released less than four months after Jackson’s death in 2009, debuted at No. 1, selling 373,000 copies in its first week.

Xscape features eight tracks, all unreleased songs completed between 1983 and 1999, with new production from Reid as well as Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon, Rodney Jerkins, John McClain, Stargate and Timbaland, with a constructed duet featuring Justin Timberlake, while a deluxe edition includes songs without the producers’ input.

The album received surprisingly favorable reviews, with Billboard’s Joe Levy chief among its supporters: “To answer your first question: Yes, it is good. And about your second: Better than you think,” adding, “The result is an album that puts Jackson’s vocal abilities -- his smooth ecstasy and pained grit; his swoops, pops, shouts and grunts, those moments when he’s overcome by emotion, or breaking free of all restraint and gravity -- front and center.”

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The N.Y. Daily NewsJim Farber agrees that the concept, while “strange,” works. “For the most part, the sonic ‘updates’ don’t feel overly artificial. The boosts tend to be sensitive, even organic, in part because some of the best don’t seem contemporary at all.” Farber bemoans the fact the album “skimps on length,” but admits, “It [adds] worthy songs to [his[ canon … Even better, it makes him sound, once again, alive.”

The L.A. TimesRandall Roberts says Jackson’s voice “is at its most powerful” on the new album, which uses the demos “as blueprints to construct modern, vibrant tracks [that feel] shockingly vital.”

Entertainment Weekly’s review finds Adam Markovitz calling the album’s greatest accomplishment the fact “that these do sound like MJ songs -- for better or worse … [his] voice, high and clear in the mix, ages decades in 40-odd minutes.”

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Rob Tannenbaum’s three-and-a-half star Rolling Stone assessment praises “the EDM surges of the astounding, audacious ‘Do You Know Where Your Children Are’ … Even with such dark subject matter, though, it’s a joy to hear the joy in Jackson’s voice.”

The N.Y. TimesJon Pareles says “that voice is airborne and supple, tenderly concerned, playful and percussive; then it grows increasingly tense, distraught desolate, embittered.” He goes on to say the songs on the album “are near misses, either not quite as striking as what he released or lesser examples of ideas he exploited better elsewhere.” His conclusion: “Archivists and producers can restyle Jackson’s work and ‘contemporize’ him, up to a point, but … they can’t resurrect him.”

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