Is the estate of Michael Jackson moon-walking shoddily across his grave or merely trying to honour his precious memory? It all depends on whether you believe that some of the people who stand to make an enormous amount of money from the late singer’s new record are acting in his best interest.
Yesterday, almost 18 months after Jackson’s died from a heart attack as he prepared for a comeback tour, his record label, Sony, unveiled the first track from Michael, which it claims will be an entire album of fresh material recorded, but never actually released, during his final years.
The debut song, “Breaking News,” is an attack on the media “who want to write my obituary” written in the aftermath of Jackson’s various court cases. It was apparently recorded in 2007 at the New Jersey home of producer Eddie Cascio, where the King of Pop and his children were living at the time.
Critics said it contained flashes of his old genius, but were lukewarm about some lyrics. The song begins with snippets of news coverage, about the singer, before segueing into a complaint about reporters “stalking” him. Its chorus poses the question: “Who is this boogieman you're thinking of?”
No sooner had the track been streamed on Jackson’s official website, however, than Sony was forced to issue a statement denying that it had been “faked.” The label said it had: “complete confidence in the results of our extensive research, as well as the accounts of those who were in the studio with Michael, that the vocals… are his own.”
That somewhat surreal development came after a weekend in which several members of Jackson’s dysfunctional extended family claimed that the record had been cobbled together from out-takes and samples from his back catalogue.
Michael’s nephew Taryll, son of his brother Tito, described it as: “sampled breaths after sampled breaths mixed in with fake vocals to try to fool you.” Taryll’s brother TJ said on his Twitter feed that “Deceptively merging shady vocals with MJ samples - from prior MJ records - will never fool me.”
Feuding is par for the course where the Jackson family is concerned, and cynics were quick to suggest that Taryll and TJ may feel hostile to the record because they are not beneficiaries of Michael’s estate, which according to Forbes magazine generated $275m in the first year after his death.
Jackson’s father, Joe, is in the same boat since he was also frozen out of his son’s will. And he duly came out of the woodwork yesterday to criticise ‘Breaking News,” claiming through a lawyer that the decision to release it was in poor taste.
“If Michael had wanted this music released he would have done so before his death,” said the attorney. “The songs which are being released on the new album were unfinished and incomplete tracks that Michael said over and over many times he never wanted released. We should honour Michael’s wishes.”
The statement put Joe Jackson at odds with his estranged wife Katherine, who does benefit financially from the singer’s estate and is the guardian of his three children, Prince Michael, 13, Paris, 12, and Prince Michael II, eight, who is also known as Blanket.
Katherine and the children were scheduled to promote the record on the Oprah Winfrey show last night. According to unconfirmed reports, the pre-recorded interview would see them address allegations that the forthcoming album had been embellished from original recordings.
A clip released in advance to the media showed Katherine Jackson, who was at the family home in Los Angeles, also admit that Michael was addicted to plastic surgery. She recalled how his nose kept getting smaller after repeated operations, and eventually looked like a “toothpick.”