It's A Hit. But Is It…Right?

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wnuTGGuAVs[/tube]

Okay, okay, you know I am as big and hyped for Xscape as anyone and, as you can clearly tell just from srolling down the page a bit, it was only very recently that I wrote a post all about how excited I was over this release. Of course, I am still excited and nothing has changed that. I thoroughly support the efforts to keep Michael’s musical legacy alive and current. That isn’t the issue.

But as soon as I found out that the first single to be debuted was this version of “Love Never Felt So Good” with Justin Timberlake added to the mix (and which is now being promoted everywhere as a Jackson/Timberlake “duet”) I had mixed feelings. I am also starting to get a sinking reality check of just what they truly mean when they talk of “contemporizing.” You see, it’s one thing to re-mix the songs, or maybe polish them up a little. I have no quarrel with that, to a point, as long as it is done tastefully and with respect to Michael’s original vision. But it’s quite another when suddenly the producers are inserting THEMSELVES into the songs, manufacturing fake duets just to either boost sales or to fulfill some fantasy on their own part to sing with Michael Jackson.

Didn’t we just have this ugly debate a few months ago when the Justin Bieber version of “Slave to the Rhythm” was leaked? The estate was quick to shut it down, but now they are openly sanctioning this. I have to ask: What’s the difference?

 “Love Never Felt So Good” was debuted on the IHeartRadio Awards Show, and the response has been overwhelming:

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkVFK86_5VQ[/tube]

But before I get on my soapbox, I have to give credit where credit is due. I very recently commented on Facebook and Twitter that if the goal was to make this a HIT album; if the goal was to sell to the masses and put Michael Jackson squarely back into the current mainstream, some changes in approach and marketing strategies would have to be made. It appears that they’ve done just that. For whatever reason, the marketing campaign has been full steam behind Xscape, and it appears to be paying off.

Here is what Billboard wrote recently:

 


Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake’s Duet Off To More Than ‘Good’ Start

By Gary Trust and Keith Caulfield | May 05, 2014 4:24 PM EDTThe lead track from ‘Xscape,’ the late King of Pop’s album due May 13, is headed to this week’s Hot 100 thanks to a strong first few days of sales, airplay and streamingMichael Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s sleek new duet, “Love Never Felt So Good,” will enter the Billboard Hot 100 chart this week following its first few days of availability.The song appears on “Xscape,” an album of eight tracks of Jackson’s vocals set to new music from Timbaland and J-Roc, Rodney Jerkins, Stargate and John McClain (a former A&M Records executive and co-executor of the Jackson estate). The set arrives May 13.

“Good” premiered on the iHeartRadio Music Awards, broadcast on NBC on May 1, and was then made available for digital purchase. (Instead of Timberlake, Usher danced to the song on the broadcast.)

Fueling its Hot 100 start? Solid initial sales and airplay, which should send the song, available as a solo Jackson recording and in a duet version with Timberlake, onto this week’s Hot 100 in the list’s lower half. Streaming activity since its premiere will also contribute to its debut rank. While “Good” is not yet available across on-demand subscription services, it’s has racked 960,000 views on YouTube so far, split between its official audio clip on Vevo (which was released May 1) and user-generated YouTube clips.

Highlights of the Hot 100 will post on Billboard.com on Wednesday (May 7), while the chart will post in its entirety the following day.

“Good” will mark Jackson’s 49th Hot 100 entry and second since his 2009 death. “Hold My Hand,” with Akon, reached No. 39 in January 2011. That collaboration was released from the posthumous “Michael ” album, which debuted on the Billboard 200 at No. 3 and has sold 540,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Jackson boasts 13 Hot 100 No. 1s, the most among solo males in the chart’s 55-year history. Only the Beatles (20) and Mariah Carey (18) have totaled more No. 1s, with Rihanna also having notched 13 leaders.

STRONG SALES

Industry forecasters suggest that “Good” may have sold more than 60,000 downloads in the week ending Sunday, May 4. That sum would’ve been generated from only three full days of sales, as the song reached retailers late on Thursday (May 1), after its premiere earlier that evening.

Certainly, “Good” is buoyed by the availability of the duet version with Timberlake, which accounts for the bulk of the song’s overall sales. (Both the Jackson solo version and the duet are combined for sales tracking and charting purposes.)

If “Good” debuts with more than 60,000 downloads sold, that would outpace the opening of “Hold My Hand.” That song sold 19,000 in a similar opening time frame, and served as the first radio-promoted single from “Michael.” It was released on a Friday (Nov. 19, 2010), so it had less than three full days of sales in its first week (ending Nov. 21). “Hold” then sold 44,000 in its first full week of availability (the frame ending Nov. 28).

RADIO ROLLOUT

Meanwhile, “Good” has also garnered a strong response at radio and appears on track for a debut on the 50-position Radio Songs chart. As of this posting, the cut has drawn 31 million all-format radio audience impressions since its first plays on Friday. On this week’s airplay charts (highlights of which will post later today, while the full charts, along with all others, will update on Thursday), it makes multiple debuts, starting on Adult R&B Songs (No. 19), Adult Contemporary (No. 23), R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay (No. 28) and Adult Pop Songs (No. 40).

As part of Clear Channel’s promotional synergy after the premiere of the song on the iHeartRadio Music Awards, “Good” received hourly plays the following day on a multitude of the company’s pop, adult and R&B/hip-hop stations, greatly contributing to its airplay so far.

Still, the station that has played “Good” the most is CBS Radio-owned adult contemporary KYXY San Diego (and, thus, did not contribute to Clear Channel’s concentrated play). The station has given the duet 37 plays (though Sunday). “We loved the song the instant we previewed it,” says KYXY program director Charlie Quinn. “It felt familiar and right in line with audience expectations for a Michael song.”
As for its long-term fortunes, Quinn is optimistic. “Timberlake and the production value definitely elevate it beyond a novelty.”

“Two icons coming together for a great groove,” is how Alex Tear, Clear Channel vp of programming/Miami, top 40 national brand coordinator and PD of Pop Songs reporter WHYI, describes the track. The station has played “Good” 13 times through May 4. “Hearing and watching the debut [of ‘Good’ during the iHeartRadio Music Awards] certainly played a role in inspiring listeners’ passion and for them to request it. News traveled fast across the generations, lighting up social media and text requests all weekend.”

Tear concurs that the song could sustain widespread interest following its splashy start.

“It’s smooth and will certainly have a pop-culture impact. It’s a great way to begin rolling into summer.”

http://www.billboard.com/articles/ne…source=twitter

 
And, granted, the single isn’t half bad. Is “Love Never Felt So Good” the song I would have necessarily chosen as the debut single? No. But then again, that just goes to show how much I know when it comes to these matters. I was always the oddball geek whose favorite song on any album was usually anything BUT the hit single. However, it certainly seems to have struck a chord with audiences and critics, and it is hard to argue in the face of that kind of success. And it is certainly not my intention to rain on that parade, because I am as proud as anyone to see the single enjoying that kind of success. It’s a catchy, feel good song and it’s not as if Timberlake’s presence on the track is particularly overpowering or  takes anything away from Michael’s vocals, which are still given the star treatment here as they should.
 
More Positive Buzz From CNN:
 
[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZdToLbjilA[/tube]
 
But for me, it kind of begs the question: Why the need for it? Over the past few years, I have noticed this increasing trend of trying to “attach” Michael’s name to current artists, as if the great, magical, and legendary name of Michael Jackson alone isn’t good enough to sell records anymore. To me, it speaks of a somewhat disturbing distrust on the part of Sony and the estate that, in fact, Michael Jackson ALONE can still sell his own brand and his own music just fine.
 
Of course, Michael in his lifetime often did collaborate with other artists. We know that at least a few of his biggest hits have been the duets he recorded with other artists. And Michael certainly wasn’t immune to the idea of “name dropping” certain guests on his records and taking full advantage of those name associations. Michael very cleverly knew, for example, that singing a duet with Paul McCartney, or having Eddie Van Halen or Slash play solos on his records, was the perfect way to infiltrate the white, AOR rock market. Just as he also knew by the late 90’s that using the names of well known gangsta rappers and giving them solo spots in his songs would help infuse his way into that market.
 
So in some ways, this is little more than the same kind of clever marketing ploy that Michael himself had been using for years. But the difference was that, as long as Michael lived, he had creative control over these kinds of decisions. Now he is not here, and frankly, it’s a little scary to see how they seem to be taking a full, almost Dr, Frankenstein kind of license with his work. Like I said, it’s one thing to bring a track up to date or to give it more polish. But now we’re talking manufactured duets that never existed, and if this becomes the accepted norm, what’s next?
 
On the “Michael” album I had no issue with the Akon duet “Hold My Hand” because this was a song that Michael and Akon actually worked on together, and recorded together. I simply have somewhat of an issue with these fake, “manufactured” duets. As someone pointed out in a recent commentary, there is no reason to doubt now that the estate didn’t also sanction the Bieber “collaboration.”
 
I agree with the critic who said that Timberlake’s production speaks of a certain self-aggrandizement.
 
 
The irony is that, while the phony Jackson/Timberlake version may be flying off the shelves (or whatever the metaphoric equivalent to digital downloading may be) it is the original MICHAEL JACKSON version that has garnered most of the critical acclaim, if recent reviews are any indication, with many praising the original track for its cool disco rhythm and 80’s vibe.
 
Perhaps that’s a mixed blessing and, who knows, part of the “method to the madness” of this whole project. The best of both worlds, so to speak. I still have my reservations, but again, it’s hard to argue against something that so many are obviously liking. Perhaps I need to just “lighten up” but my biggest fear is that this sort of “Dr. Frankenstein” approach to Michael’s music may become the norm for future products, rather than the exception. I somewhat half agree with that old buzz kill Roger Friedman, who nevertheless made some valid points in his recent “sour grapes” hit piece. Bad 25 contained many songs that were far superior to “Love Never Felt So Good” but that didn’t receive an iota of the promotion that has been lavished on Xscape and this single.
 
Not surprisingly, I find myself a bit torn, proud of the song’s success, yet questioning the ethics of production that have brought it to light. I am really not much in the mood for protest right now. Part of me says just relax, and let it go. There is plenty to celebrate right now. “Immortal” is in town tonight, and by tomorrow evening, I will be enjoying my hard-earned floor seats. Xscape drops next week, and the current buzz now is that “Chicago” is a sexy killler on a par with “Give In To Me.”
 
As for “Love Never Felt So Good”-Timberlake style-I’m willing for now to take a deep breath and let it go, I suppose. But a part of me still can’t help asking the question that I have been asking, over and over, for the last five years: Why is it proving to be so gosh darn hard just to get a simple, good, and decent posthumous Michael Jackson album, one that could simply feature his best unreleased work with no controversy and no over produced frills? One that could be allowed to stand up and sell on its OWN merit?
 
I had high hopes that Xscape might be that album, and don’t get me wrong, I’m still pumped. But I can’t deny that this has put a bit of a damper on it for me.
 
Michael was, and is The King of Pop. He doesn’t need the princes and the court jesters to sell his name.

24 thoughts on “It's A Hit. But Is It…Right?”

  1. I preordered the album so I will wait to hear the whole thjing before passing judgment–I ordered the deluxe version so I can hear the finished and unfinished versions. Re JT, I am speculating that the desire to bring in new fans who will buy the music is part of this. The sales for Bad25 and Michael were not good, and according to Billboard, Elvis sold more music than MJ in 2012. Yes, sales were high after his death of his formerly released music, but have flattened since then. Are you saying they should not use any duets?

    1. My beef is with these “fake” or mash-up duets. Of course, I have no problem with duets if they were genuine duets that Michael actually recorded with another artist. I just think it’s a bit presumptuous to “create” duets for him that never existed. It is one thing, for example, to buy Thriller and know we’re getting “The Girl Is Mine” with Paul McCartney, or to buy “Bad” and know we’re getting “Just Good Friends” and “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” But it’s quite another matter to totally fabricate them. Like I said, I had no issue with “Hold My Hand” because Michael actually recorded that song with Akon. But I just think that at this point, unless it was an actual collaboration that was recorded during Michael’s lifetime, they should not be included. I heard a rumor, for example, that a recording of Michael and Tina Turner was recently discovered. Now something like THAT I would die to hear. But I don’t like the idea-which now seems to be a growing trend-of just anyone and everyone deciding to insert themselves into Michael’s recordings because they can.

      I am happy that the single is doing well and, really, as far as these kind of mash-ups go, it’s pretty decent. I just hope that it doesn’t become a harbinger of things to come in regards to Michael’s posthumous music.

  2. Raven, that old buzz kill Roger Friedman brought up a good point here:

    “Not to Be There: Michael Jackson Posthumous Single, Even with Justin Timberlake, is a Flop,” Roger Friedman:

    http://www.showbiz411.com/2014/05/04/not-to-be-there-michael-jackson-posthumous-single-even-with-justin-timberlake-is-a-flop

    “Most estates do not let their artist’s unreleased work be completed by anyone. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison– none of them have been subjected to that.We never had disco versions of their unreleased material. There was never John Mayer on tracks with Hendrix.

    “I can think of two instances where work was complemented or realized. One was the Beatles, with Yoko Ono’s permission, enhancing “Free as A Bird” and “Real Love” with the remaining Beatles. The other was Natalie Cole adding her voice and making a duet with her father, Nat King Cole, on “Unforgettable.” ”
    ________________________________

    This raises a lot of questions in my mind, as I’m sure it does for you, Raven. My sense is that the release of these songs isn’t meant merely be big, in the eyes of the Estate and Sony: it should be HUGE, much as Thriller was (inasmuch as anything like that is possible these days). If Hendrix’s, Morrison’s, and Joplin’s posthumously-released music was considered *sacrosanct* in its original condition, why not Michael Jackson’s? Why does his sound need “updating” in ways these artists do not?

    Well…. for one thing, Michael is one of those “legacy artists” (as they’re called) whose popularity and demise is more recent. He’s a “crossover” artist generationally, or so the Estate/label hopes, is my guess. While the Beatles, Hendrix, and other ’60s musicians might be expected to sell well within a certain “demographic” (maybe the over-45 or 50 or 55 crowd), the MJ people hope that they can provide “something for everyone” that will lure people across generations.

    The Deluxe Edition of Xscape features not only two, but *three* versions of “Love Never Felt So Good” (or so I hope!) The only “original” version of the song, as far as I know, is the one that can be found as a demo on YouTube—just Michael’s vocals and a simple piano accompaniment. The “silver” version (Michael solo) is meant to appeal to the “adult contemporary” crowd, and the “gold” version (“duet” with Justin Timberlake) to the young audience. Or that’s the impression I get from what I’ve read. Something for everyone.

    It’s not enough for them to have a modest success, as would be the case with a posthumous release of the ’60s artists, whose historic tracks were left untouched. For better or worse, they must have a BLOCKBUSTER, and perhaps claim that they’re are acting in the spirit of Michael’s own overwhelming ambition to sell more records than anyone else. This is all part and parcel of the mourning process for everyone involved, I think.

    Sometimes decisions are made that are more to do with business considerations—the “bottom line”—than with any sort of artistic justification. In any case, I think it’s ill-advised to have any singer attempt to record a verse with Michael. As one person pointed out elsewhere, the rationale for approving Justin Timberlake (as opposed to Bieber) may simply be about business. Justin Timberlake records for Sony, so they can promote him at the same (and Usher, too, another Sony artist, who appeared performing the song on TV). Bieber, on the other hand, records with a different label, Island Records. So no contracts were signed, no money was to be made; in effect, Bieber acted as a “rogue” or “renegade” collaborator, as opposed to Timberlake. It’s no wonder they shut him down.

    1. Those are valid points regarding the JT/Sony connection. I think the ultimate plan, most likely, is to have both versions of the song (with JT and without) in heavy rotation.

      I have mentioned before that one of my absolute, all time favorite posthumous albums is Stevie Ray Vaughan’s The Sky Is Crying. That was a project that was carried out with a lot of love and respect, and was released to much critical acclaim. It was also a very commercially successful record within its demographic, topping many rock and album charts. And it sold on its own merits. They didn’t splice in guitar solos from Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton to create mash up “duets”; they didn’t insert B.B. King into the tracks just to sell even more copies. Of course, this was again another example of a posthumous album that was being marketed for a rather narrowly defined demographic. It was very successful WITHIN that demographic, of course, but there was never any pressure for it to be some kind of huge crossover, commerical success. With Michael, it remains just as true in death for him as it was in life, where there is always going to be this tremendous pressure to have an album that sells at least as well as Thriller, Bad or Dangerous to even be remotely considered successful.

      My problem, I suppose, is that I want to have my cake and eat it, too. I want a huge commercial success for Michael, but I want it done with integrity and by allowing his music to stand or fall on its own merits. Again, it’s not an issue with the production just so much as it is this idea that, just because the technology exists, anyone can now technically insert themselves into a Michael Jackson song and can then manage to hog at least part of the credit if it becomes successful.

      Michael didn’t operate in an artistic vacuum, of course. He had lots of help from many, and collaborated with many. This very song is a result of one such collaboration, with Paul Anka. Maybe some would look at this as carrying on that same spirit and tradition even in death, but I can’t help but feel it’s crossing a line when they start creating “collaborations” for Michael. As I said before-in fact, the entire point of this post-is that there may well be “method to the madness.” It’s obviously a marketing strategy that is reaping just the results they were hoping for, and in some ways, as I acknowledged, one can’t argue with success. But the unsettling issue of the ethics of such practices still remains. The bottom line, as you say, is money.

      It also reminds me of just why the ongoing debate over the desire to see Michael’s music remain commercially successful and viable vs. the revulsion of further lining Sony’s pockets with Michael’s blood is never going to be one that is easily resolved.

      I am definitely not one of those boycotters or one of those who is going to scream “fake tracks” every time a new MJ release comes out. I am proud to support Michael’s music and legacy. But one nice perk to having a blog is that I can vent when something is on my mind, and for me, this track does raise some disturbing issues regarding just how far they may be willing to go in “manufacturing” Michael’s music.

      On the one hand, I think it’s good because these kinds of collaborations serve as reminders of just how revered Michael is to the current generation of artists, and that can’t be a bad thing. If this proves to be a one-time shot I can deal with it, but I just hope it doesn’t become a trend they think they have to repeat with every new release.

      1. Raven said “raise some disturbing issues regarding just how far they may be willing to go in “manufacturing” Michael’s music. I’ve had the same thoughts but calm myself with the thought that Michael’s fans don’t let them get away with anything! I love these new songs and believe that Xscape will be a success. There’s one bit of trivia I’m put off by, however. On Chicago, Timbaland has inserted some duck sounds, which from what I’ve read, he has done on his previous productions. How unnecessary on a Michael Jackson song!

        But I’m going to put any negativity aside and enjoy the music. With the eight original MJ demos on the deluxe album, it will be easy to Xscape “contemporization”, if just for awhile, if it becomes a bit too much.

        1. For sure, if this becomes something that gets out of hand, I think the fans will bring it to a screaming halt. They certainly did that with the Cascio tracks, although I am very much on the fence regarding the Cascio tracks. I believe they are Michael, but overall, based on what we have heard so far, they are not great songs. Granted, they may have had the potential to BECOME great songs had Michael been able to finish them. Breaking News was certainly interesting, even if albeit another version of “The Media Is Out To Get Me.” But they were obviously over produced on the album and ended up being somewhat mediocre tracks that I think pulled down the quality of the Michael album overall (overriding some really great tracks like Behind The Mask and I Can’t Wait Another Day). I would love to hear the demos of the Cascio tracks. I mean, do they even exist? The estate will probably never release anymore of those tracks which is kind of a shame because there are still some fans, such as myself, who are curious to hear them, even if just to have an opportunity to draw my own conclusions.

          The thing about “contemporized” tracks is that they can sound very cool for the moment, but they tend to date very quickly. Michael’s best songs from the 80’s and 90’s still sound like songs from the 80’s and 90’s yet they were produced so well that, either despite that or, perhaps, because of that, they still hold up and sound great even now. People hear them and they are instantly reminded of why music was so great back then. But the thing we have to keep in mind is that Michael was continuing to evolve, and had he lived, his music now would be “contemporized” in much the same manner of what they are doing with this album. I remember much of the criticism directed at Invincible was due to that very thing-people wanting their beloved 80’s Michael, when Michael himself had his sights set on the new millennium and the new directions that music was taking. (Yet, ironically, Invincible was also his most retro album in years in some ways, what with the return to his r&b roots on songs like Break of Dawn).

          1. ‘I would love to hear the demos of the Cascio tracks. I mean, do they even exist?”

            No they do not exist. According to Eddy Cascio the original demo’s were deleted from the hard drive. Something that in 46 years of Michaels career never ever happened. And to no less than 10 songs, a whole album- that according to Cascio Michael had more or less finished.
            Except – his own words- they had to fill in some parts that Michael was not able to finish because he died.
            Joe Vogel talked to everyone who worked on the album,all experienced professionals , some who only had one song on the album, and they gave him full insight in the whole production process. Only Eddy who had 3 songs on the album and zero ezperience with producing Michael,except some backing vocals on thriller 25, refused to talk to him. Joe even said that he would not include the songs in a next edition of his book as long as there is no insight in the origins of the songs.

            Sony is a dinosaur. If they were so sure of the authenticity of the songs, for which they paid a sunstantial sum, they would have turned everything upside down to prove it and would have sued for libel because it is clear that they lost alot because of the accusations.
            How come they did nothing about the leaking of Michaels songs thats been happening for years , yet fought tooth and nail to make sure that not one single fans attempt to compare the Cascio songs to Michaels was left online, and they still do.
            There is much more that is questionable about the songs but that is a whole different discussion.

          2. The original demos of some, or possibly all, of the Cascio tracks do exist. I’ve heard the full original demos of “Monster” and “All I Need” (unreleased Cascio track) and snippets of the demos of “Breaking News”, “Keep Your Head Up”, “Burn 2Night” and “Stay”.

            If you do a Google search, you’ll locate at least some of the songs that I mentioned. All of those songs were slower than the remixed versions done by more known producers after Sony bought the tracks from Eddie Cascio.

            Raven, make no mistake about it, all 12 of those songs are fake. “All Right” is a cheap imitation of “Stranger In Moscow”, “Ready 2 Win” is a cheap imitation of “On The Line”, “Water” includes recycled lyrics from “Heaven Can Wait”, do I need to go on? At which point when Michael was alive, did he record songs in that manner?

            It’s very telling that the only songs leaked to him that are cheap imitations of Michael Jackson songs all come from the exact same source, Eddie Cascio and James Porte. So, apparently, Michael lost his creativity for the 3-4 months that he stayed at the Cascio’s home and recorded music in Eddie’s studio. Absolutely not. That’s ridiculous.

            Also, Michael was a perfectionist and it would take a significant amount of time for him to complete a single song due to retakes and Cascio expected us to believe that Michael recorded 12 complete songs in such a short period of time. No one should have believed that lie.

            The vocals and vibrato on those songs have nothing to do with them being overproduced or the use of Melodyne. Teddy Riley even stopped lying about those songs’ authenticity on Twitter last year. This is why they could never give us definitive proof that those songs are legit and why Cascio wouldn’t speak to Joe Vogel about them. Thankfully, they’ve learned their lesson and the remaining 9 tracks will never be released but, unfortunately, the damage has already been done.

          3. Thanks for the info. I will look for those. I am still very curious about “Breaking News.” Part of it to me sounds like it could have been Michael manipulating his voice; going for a different “sound.” We know that he was experimenting more with his other vocal ranges in the last ten years or so. Some of his vocals on the “Xscape” track remind me a little of the “Breaking News” voice. Although I agreed with the majority that something about the vocals on those tracks did sound a bit “off” I have never been able to completely dismiss them out of hand, as many fans have done. I would still like to study them a bit more.

            But as I said before, I think that any way you slice it, these simply weren’t great songs, and it really begs the question as to why the estate and Sony were so insistent upon them, to the point they were apparently willing to risk the fan backlash.

            I honestly believe they thought that the controversy would help generate sales, as in the old adage, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity-as long as they’re talking about it.” They may have thought that having everyone talking about “is this Michael or is this not” would propel “Breaking News” into some huge, lead-off smash (hence why it was the first track leaked, even though they already knew it was not going to be the first single; the idea, however, was to get the buzz ignited). In short, it was a publicity stunt that backfired horribly.

      2. I suspect that the “Cascio tracks” were an experiment, a test to see if the fan base could be fooled by an MJ impersonator with the Sony imprimatur. If it had worked, I’m sure many more ‘unfinished’ MJ tracks would have been magically discovered. The encyclopedic knowledge and sharp ears of dedicated Michael Jackson fans were greatly underestimated.

  3. Something to keep in mind is that there are two Xscape albums being released. One has only the 8 “contemporized” tracks. The deluxe edition has those 8 plus the 8 demos, bonus MJ/JT track, and the videos. It is the deluxe version of the album that is garnering the preorders of the album in far greater number than the single CD version. I am just going to try to enjoy the experience and not worry about the rest.

    1. That’s pretty much the philosophy I have taken with it, as well. I am still very excited about most of the album, and am trying hard not to let this put a damper on my spirits. Sometimes I just have to have my vent for the day, to get something off my chest, and this was it.

      It doesn’t surprise me that the deluxe set is outselling the standard version. They had to know (hence the justification for putting out both) that the CD sales would mostly be driven by the hardcore fans, who of course will want (nay, DEMAND) those demos. Kids and casual fans who just like LNFSG are simply going to download the single, and probably won’t be too concerned about the CD, truth be told, unless they hear other songs from it that they like. But even then, I would wager that most of them will just end up downloading the singles, while the hard core fans will drive the deluxe edition CD sales.

      Either way, it’s a win-win for everyone, but I somewhat predict that the standard CD may take a bit of a beating from being caught in the middle, since hard core fans will flock to the deluxe edition and most casual fans will probably simply download the singles. But we’ll see. One constant of the music industry that hasn’t really changed is that album sales are still driven by the strength of the singles. If a CD has enough solid hit singles, buyers will naturally flock to the album, eventually figuring, “Well hell, might as well just buy the darn thing rather than forking out money on every new single.”

  4. Re the Justin Bieber/Timberlake duets Im not in favor of duets on never before released songs, only for commercial reasons. But Bieber has always expressed his admiration for Michael which cannot be said of Timberlake untill he appeared on Michaels album. On the positive side at there is no question about authenticity. This is progress compared to the Michael album and I am happy they did not include any of the remaining Cascio tracks. Hopefully that will never happen.
    Wish they had supported and promoted Michaels music then how they do it now. Its sad to think of Michael standing on Time square waving at fans to promote his album.

    I am on the fence about the comtemporizing of Michaels music and do not intend to buy it.
    I do listen to and support Michaels own work, the demo;s most of us already knew and the ‘new’ ones like the beautiful Chicago, with the original APWNN demo, the best I have heard in years.
    But since they will not be released on their own, I will wait till they are uploaded on youtube which will happen anyway.
    I am against stealing someones hard work so I have made the decision that for Michaels demo’s that I download or stream I will donate to a charity that he supported.

    Like anyone else, I do not know for sure if and what Michael wanted released , whether he wanted his work duetted and contemporized or who he wanted to produce them. But what I do know is that he wanted 20% of his estate to go to charity. Since the demo’s will be released anyway, I decide for myself where my money that I spend on Michaels music goes and this I am 100% sure he would approve.
    This may be a suggestion to who thinks like wise.

    1. As I have said here many times, these are choices that every fan has to make for themselves and I am certainly not here to tell anyone to buy it, or not buy it, etc. I will buy it, but only the deluxe edition because I want the original tracks.

      1. That goes without saying. Imo you didnt and I didnt, I just gave an alternative for those who want only Michaels version.
        The bottomline is that it is Michaels voice that makes the songs ,not the production. The producers and engineers, though very professional and seasoned and well meaning, are interchangeable. But take away Michaels voice, what is left is noise. While the other way round, if there were only acappela’s they would still be great and worth listening , an unfinished piece of art. Ofcourse anyone can make what they want from that piece of art and it can be technically enhanced by adding ones own orchestration or whatever is available to ‘improve’ the sound. But it will still not be Michaels work and promoting it as if it is, is just not acceptable.
        The fact that there are many demo versions of the same song and it is said that Michael worked on them spanning decades, tells me that there is no way to know if this comes close to what he had wanted with the songs.

  5. I share your feelings about the duet, and my issue is not with it alone, but with the whole album. They are not ‘polishing’ the songs this time – they outright changed the music: threw away the arrangement Michael worked on (for years – for APWNN from 1998 to 2008, for example) and replaced it with their new hashed together arrangements which they market as Jackson’s work. If Michael Jackson was a mere singer, a vocalist, that might have been ok. But he was not a mere singer – he was a composer and a perfectionist who cared about every instrument in his songs and put his sweat and blood and sleepless nights in them, to bring these songs to the state he left them at. And then someone comes in and makes a decision that these songs are not worthy to be on the radio and no one except hardcore fans will care about them, so let’s rewrite them and make them Timbaland songs instead and use Michael’s name to sell them. Excuse me, but that’s just disrespectful to Michael’s principles (he said, “I want it the way I wrote it”) and all the years of hard work he put into his music in order to someday present it to the world.

    1. I have only listened to the reworked version of A Place With No Name once, but I didn’t like it at all. Sadly, that is the track I was MOST excited about being on the album. But it was really very near perfect as it was. It had a simplistic, beautiful arrangement that worked. It didn’t need any more embellishment; it certainly didn’t need its whole arrangement changed. I find myself very “up and down, back and forth” with this album because I really do LOVE some of the tracks, such as the title track (I was delightfully surprised with how much I loved this, when I was prepared for it to to probably be my least favorite track) and Blue Gangsta. I have not listened yet to the “revamped” DYKWYCA, but the feedback I’ve heard from those who have has been very mixed. Love Never Felt So Good is not a song that gets me jumping out of my chair (either version). It’s a pleasant enough song, but a quite mediocre one as compared to the canon of Michael’s great works. However, as I have said, it seems to be striking a chord with the public and I am certainly not going to argue with that because I am always happy to see any MJ song enjoying that kind of success. I suppose it just puzzles me sometimes why certain songs will catch on the way they do (when so many more deserving ones do not) or, more aptly, why Sony and the estate will put out so much marketing effort behind certain songs to garner that kind of attention for them, when again, so many better songs are either ignored or, worse yet, butchered as APWNN has been.

      I still haven’t listened to every track because I want to be able to maintain some element of surprise when I actually have the CD in my hands on Tuesday. But I kind of suspected that I will love some tracks better than others. That is simply to be expected. I have my “skip” songs on every MJ album. But with a CD consisting of only eight tracks (almost an EP, actually) consistent quality becomes a very big factor. If we’re getting fewer songs, we expect those songs to be great. It’s not like when Michael was putting out albums with 15-16 tracks, and could get away with a throwaway track or two.

      I think a better strategy might have been to have some remixes, and some tracks left in their original state. Judging from what I’ve heard, some of the tracks have benefitted quite well from the new production (again, Xscape and Blue Gangsta are stellar examples) but A Place With No Name and Do You Know Where Your Children Are shouldn’t have been tampered with other than a bit of polishing.

      Of course, I have already seen a myriad of varying opinions on all of these tracks. Inevitably, they can’t please everyone. Some people will think the remixed versions are just super cool, and others are going to hate them. Everyone is going to have an opinion.

      I was just thinking of how what’s being done with Michael’s music now isn’t something totally new. Back in the early 80’s, when Thriller was at its peak and Michael Mania was in full swing, Epic decided to “cash in” on his current success by digging up and contemporizing a rather mediocre song he had recorded back in the 70’s, Farewell, My Summer Love. I remember quite distinctly that the song was promoted as a “previously unreleased” MJ song brought “up to date” to sound like the 80’s. It was a moderate hit, probably intended to take advantage of his current popularity and also, to keep his name on the charts, since Thriller had been out for almost two years by then and its singles were starting to lose some of their steam, most of them having already begun their descent down the charts.

      Just goes to show how long-lived Michael’s recording career has been, when even in the 80’s they were already “contemporizing” his past recordings to make them current.

  6. I Have bought the album today and listened 2 them all for the first time I prefer the old school way b4 leeks and if I may do my own little first impression I have mixed feelings.

    Song by song

    Love never felt so good – I always liked the stripped down demo and glad it is that version on the demo side and on this song I feel the updated sound/“contemporizing” works alright. I understand the thinking with timberlake also cos if u look at modern music songs that appear on reality shows saw up in the charts or the glee cover that brought Don’t stop believing back. That’s just unfortunately the sign of the times of music consumption. However I think this isn’t quite the same and JT wasn’t trying to make it all about him when he could of thrown himself all over the track. So Good gets a pass for both versions.

    Chicago – My personal favourite of the contemporizing stuff. I know Timberland wanted it out first and I must admit with a great hook and a real urban feel I think it is very releasable. The demo is very early and quite different but not in a bad way. As in u can see where producers have taken bits from for the new version.

    Loving You – I think is a lovely song but judging by the demo definitely needed some more paint if I can use an MJ/Quincy saying of painting different colours to create a beautiful peace of art. The new version does that and I would say is the 2nd strongest on the album…. however then things become I don’t know uneasy maybe the word.

    A Place With No Name – You will first Raven glad to know the demo is the version of the one we know and love. Love this version. The new version however sets a familiar theme for the rest of the album. The producers have obviously gone for a modern sonic dance sound through this album. Do I get that? Yes, these versions are for younger listeners new generation of MJ fan (although im 25 myself) I think the chorus backing vocals I’ve heard that style on dance tracks before in recent years. However, for me it does not improve the original. So as much understanding I have for there thought process and changing it to suit the overall album sound I personally prefer the demo. Although as a little ray of sunshine it maybe one of those that grows on you as is the next 1.

    Slave to the Rhythm – Coming into this my favourite song felt leaked version was still modern enough for todays market. The demo is at its earliest stripped away from that although you can hear from the demo where MJ went with it. However producers gone on a different direction. Maybe I’m so used to the other version but for me it is not an improvement not terrible but not as good. So why change it?
    I assume that is the beiber effect they wanted no resemblance to that version and as Beib effectively just copied and pasted his vocals on the leaked version they went away from it. If it was put down as a duet but the reaction was so bad they changed the make up of the whole song im afraid that is a poor effort all round and hasn’t killed the song but took away its potential.

    Do You Know Where Your Children Are – Do They know what they’ve done with this song? Because I sure don’t. By far the biggest disappointment of the album. The demo is again the earliest version (personally I like seeing the seed and productive beginnings or where songs originate) and again we can tell where MJ took his demo and grew it into the leaked version which is a great song. However it has been completely changed and not for the better. The great rock version has been changed with a version to fit the theme of the album which i’ll discuss more in summary. But it just for me and again I will give them all a chance have to say my first reaction was disappointing and worst of all like “Slave” we don’t have the great leaked versions of MJs anywhere on this record. Which for me is a crying shame.

    Blue Gangsta – The demo is almost Identical to leaked version but for a few minor differences which I liked. The new version the intro and verses work well but then when the chorus kicks in the production mashes with the trumpets not in a good way. So half and half verses are fine chorus adjusted to again fit the sonic dance theme of album when it wasn’t really need or as I call it unnecessary noise.

    Xscape – Original demo same as Blue Gangsta same as leaked version all but little adjustments that made it stronger on leaked version. New version is ok. I prefer demo but this one I think is a grower. I didn’t like trumpets at first but when you hear it all the way through your like ow okay I see what they did there and it is a nice fit not a bad way to end album.

    Summary!
    If I could pick from all the verions I heard of these tracks the tracklist would be:

    First 3 as they are maybe “good” original just cos I like piano and MJ’s voice but new version is ok.

    Then APWKN demo original
    STTR leaked version
    DYKWYCA leaked version
    Blue Gangsta demo
    Xscape demo or leaked version as it is a slight improvement on demo verses.

    So do I hate the version we have? No. Is it as good as it could of been? Also for me and IMO no. I do understand that it is the early 20s age group that buys music and it is definitely aimed at them the contemporized versions. However for me I have always had an issue with the King of pop mantra. I don’t get what pop is classed as at times. For me Michael Jackson was the King of eclectic. He was so POPular not because of an RnB style or disco it was all the different genres he rained in under one album and made it work. Some have called it pandering to different genres wants and formulaic layouts. I just think this is just bitter words from a society of critics that like everything to fit in a nice box. Your emo or goth u are a metalhead, u are rock and roll or classical. Diverse isn’t acceptable must maintain in the group your put in apparently. MJ destroyed this theory. He was by no means the first but if u ask any Michael Jackson fan what there musical taste is it will be eclectic, because of Michael Jackson.
    Why is this relevant to Xscape. There is no Rock song like Dirty Diana or Give in to me. There are no ballads/power ballads. No classical/gospel choir. Now in some cases these choices were not available. But DYKWYCA was Rock before the new version so again the original question why change?
    Maybe in part to get away from critics rhetoric of formulaic so they have almost changed every song to fit this sonic dance vibe throughout the album. In fairness all albums have a general theme, but MJ knew when to cut from the theme throw u left of centre and then bring u back again.
    Unfortunately the producers stayed on theme all the way threw after first 3. Maybe the new breed of MJ fans will like this cos this is the way the industry is now I don’t know. There are some dance tracks in there for sure. But what about the hardcore fan base. The loyalists who have waited for these leaked versions and to find out your only getting 4 out of the 6 that were leaked and fell in love with first listen and can never get those versions cos they have been taken down. They could sell them on a single but I think to take advantage of fans loyalty is wrong I wont buy into that if it happens.

    So in closing a Bad album no but can’t help feel there was more to come from it. I will give these tracks a fair listen and if my opinion changes tell you. Better than “Michael” yes. I just feel this album has been made for the next generation, which is ok in some ways I am technically apart of that generation but have old school tastes. If the other leaked versions were on the album I would prob be fine with it but you are left with feeling as though something is missing. Which is a shame when u know the material is there.

    Sorry it was so long Chris.

    1. Thanks for your input, Chris. Based on what I’ve heard so far, I would say I probably agree with most of your assessments. But I will post a full review tomorrow once I’ve had a chance to really listen to and digest the album today.

      I was really disappointed this morning when I went to Wal-Mart and all I saw on the shelf was the standard CD. I was getting worried I would have to go to another store, but then I asked an employee and she showed me where the display was that had the deluxe copies. Turns out, I was only overlooking it. Whew! It’s kind of funny to see that even though the deluxe edition is higher priced, it seems to be outselling the standard version substantially. It is also the deluxe edition that is charting on both Amazon and Itunes. Obviously, people WANT to hear those originals. Maybe this could be taken as a very good hint that an album of genuine, untouched MJ demos COULD, in fact, be just as commercially successful as an album of “produced” and “contemporized” tracks. Or maybe have an album that features one or two token “contemporized” versions (to aim at the radio market, etc) while allowing the other tracks to remain untouched. I think this would be a more viable compromise. Obviously, there is a market for the contemporized tracks, as we’ve seen with the chart success of Love Never Felt So Good. But I think the problem is that it’s hard to sustain that kind of momentum and quality for an entire album, and we end up, usually, with some very cool tracks, some “okay” ones, and then a whole lot of white noise.

      Judging from the buzz I’ve seen, the critics seem to really like LNFSG, but beyond that, it is the originals that are getting the most attention. Maybe this could be a cue for the marketing of future projects. I don’t know. It’s just a thought.

      But I’ve still got to actually listen before making a fair judgement. Right now I’m kind of disgusted because here I am, sitting here with the spanking brand new copy of xscape that I’ve just purchased, and yet reading this crap about Jimmy Safechuck. I can’t believe how deliberate and evil these plotters are. Well, I will address all of that later. Today is all about the music!

      1. I haven’t dignified allegation with my eyes because its so predictable. Still waiting for the next instalment of the Wade Robson forever changing story.

        I have to say regarding 2 what I said above Loving you I should of raved a bit more about cos it actually very good both versions. Be next single out. I think all in all most new versions if they pulled back abit they would be absolutely fine. But there are few things that need tweaking for me like A place With No Name keyboard part in the intro and 1st 2 mins would of been better if the had it like the 3rd verse softer and MJ’s voice dominating all the way through.

        In UK deluxe edition was selling more than new version 1s in shops 2 I guess argument would be us long term fans would go out and get that first where as kids may come in later weeks to get new version album as they wouldn’t be aware of the leaked versions.

  7. I love listening to tracks nine through sixteen. Pure Michael. I like the feeling of intimacy these original tracks convey. Just me and Michael’s voice. I think the other tracks are over-produced. I don’t like anything that takes me away from Michael’s voice, and these tracks do. So from now on, I’ll skip to nine and stop at sixteen. Sorry, Justin Timberlake, next to MJ’s voice yours sounds flat.

    1. Lol, JT’s vocals do sound flat next to MJ’s!

      I am still working on my review. We may not agree on all points, but I definitely understand where you’re coming from. I will try to have the review posted today, but as most of you know by now, I am usually very thorough and the kind of thoroughness I put into every post takes time- as well as energy and focus, lol. I’ve been chipping away at this for three days because I would like for it to be my definitive word on Xscape once I put it out there.

      But yes, I do agree the demos are a very intimate listening experience.

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