This album really is off the wall

Elisa Bray hears the record Michael Jackson never got to complete
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The Independent Culture

Just when it seemed Michael Jackson had finally been left to rest in peace, out comes his first studio album in nine years.

It is 18 months since Jackson's death and a year since the release of his last album This Is It. That release, which featured a handful of unreleased tracks, was a bestseller and Michael, which comes out on Monday will, of course, follow suit – it is already top of all the digital charts on iTunes, Amazon, HMV and Play.com on pre-orders alone. Yesterday it was played to a handful of journalists for the first time.

The project took shape when the producers and collaborators – including Akon, 50 Cent and Lenny Kravitz – took 10 unfinished songs by Jackson and completed them. The late star's vocals are more prominent in some songs than others, but the good ones take the listener straight back to his hits, although "Hollywood Tonight" is overloaded with production. With a beat-boxing and marching groove throughout, Jackson's vocals are layered with a spoken bridge added by Teddy Riley and a whistling refrain.

It's followed by the softer "Keep Your Head Up", featuring Jackson's high-pitched vocals. Questions have surrounded Michael since its announcement, notably over the authenticity of his vocals on the first official single "Breaking News", a duet with Akon, which was leaked as an unfinished track in 2008. What is clear is that a lot has changed in the nine years since Jackson's last studio album, Invincible, thanks to the slick work of producers like Mark Ronson and Will.I.Am – who has been vocal in his criticism of the whole project.

But here, a couple of the tracks are so over-produced that, with all the backing vocals, you can barely hear Jackson's voice. The album is best regarded as a compilation, jumping as it does from Jackson's gentler anthemic numbers to stomping "Billie Jean"-style tracks, such as the stand-out "Monster", featuring 50 Cent.

"(I Can't Make It) Another Day" was written by Lenny Kravitz, recorded as a demo and leaked in 2008. Another track was written by Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto for Yellow Magic Orchestra. Jackson is said to have loved it so much he asked to re-write it with new lyrics.

Only one of the tracks on the album was fully completed by Jackson (back in the Thriller era), the album's closer, "Much Too Soon". It could explain why some of the songs seem to simply fade away, without any proper endings, rather like the man himself.

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