Never Been Better
A raid on the vaults has produced one of the more satisfying Michael Jackson album of the last couple of decades.
It's a bit of a cheat though. Xscape is drawn from material across Jackson's career, so it needn't be too tainted by the creative dip that flawed the latter years of his output. On the other hand, songs are shelved for a reason so don't come in anticipating the new Thriller.
With expectations nicely recalibrated, there's plenty to enjoy. The project's been overseen by Epic Records Chairman LA Reid, who doesn't want to spoil his cash cow's legacy. He's brought in Timbaland as lead producer, along with R&B don Rodney Jerkins, Stargate and other premium knob-twiddlers, to 'contemporize' the tracks, and the fairydust produces a largely cohesive album.
The standout's right upfront, with opener Love Never Felt So Good taking us right back to disco Jacko with smooth Philly soul strings and the man himself on sweet, flowing, breathy style. It's actually reprised at the end with a phoned-in guest spot from Justin Timberlake, but otherwise the modern sheen of the album buffs up pretty well.
A Place With No Name might be a ringer for Bad's The Way You Make Me Feel but it has its own robotic appeal, while the title track is a quickfire thrill. Do You Know Where Your Children has a title to make anyone wince, but its jerky electro-funk is addictive and those trademark "hee-hee"s are good to hear again.
Gathering outtakes like this is never going to mean a classic. Even so, Xscape shows Jackson was rejecting decent stuff at his many peaks. You can bet there'll be more.