Michael, the first collection of unreleased Michael Jackson studio recordings to be released since his death, is the most frustrating kind of posthumous release. It's a patchwork of mostly unfinished songs, recorded over decades and tidied up after the artist's death, without a single theme or collaborator — let alone the vision of their creator — to hold them together. And critical opinions on the album have, so far, varied wildly.
In many ways Michael has more in common with later posthumous Tupac albums or the abominations stitched together by Jimi Hendrix's estate in the mid-1970s than, say, Notorious B.I.G.'s Life After Death, Janis Joplin's Pearl or Hendrix's Cry of Love — albums that were largely completed at the time of the artist's death and can be seen as logical, unintentionally final steps in their careers.
Over the past few days, details have emerged about the recordings that constitute the 10-track Michael, some of which were nearly complete songs on which Jackson had collaborated with the producers; at least one was completed by someone he'd never worked with.
And so it was probably just a matter of time before someone compared Michael's songs to the zombies in the "Thriller" video, as The New York Times' Jon Pareles has ("Now he returns, reanimated").
The album's producers have varying perspectives on the work they've done. Lenny Kravitz said of "I Can't Make It Another Day" — his collaboration with Jackson that he completed over the past year — "I know he stood behind it, so I'm cool with what I did. I was proud to put it out and knew that he'd be all over it, that he'd be really with it."
It's hard to imagine many people agreeing with longtime Jackson collaborator Teddy Riley, who told the Associated Press that Michael is a "masterpiece." But the view of Jackson friend and collaborator Will.i.am — who called the album "disrespectful" and has sworn his unreleased work with the singer will never see the light of day — feels unfair to fans who just want to hear more, whether the songs are perfect or not.
Not surprisingly, reviews of the album, which comes out Monday, are completely polarized. In a three-star Rolling Stone review, Jody Rosen writes that "it's a testament to the man's charisma that Michael can be compelling." In the Times, Pareles says "it comes across as a rush job — or just leftovers"; while in Time, frequent Rolling Stone contributor David Browne writes, "Against all odds ... it's a shockingly credible record — a carefully assembled recreation of his finest moments as a solo artist and a reminder of why we cared about him to begin with."
Collaborators say new MJ album honors legacy [Associated Press]
After Death, the Remix [New York Times]