Review Summary: An interesting old-meets-new compilation that happens to be much better than the singer's first posthumous album Michael. Just make sure not to grab the deluxe edition.
After a mere five years since Michael Jackson's death, we're already looking at the second posthumous compilation of songs featuring the legendary singer. Now, I'm not against hearing unreleased material by the man himself, but doesn't it seem like such an obvious cash grab? Hell, in a way, I'm actually surprised that there haven't been more
albums released in these five years. Finding out that Timbaland happens to be the executive producer of Xscape
(bringing other producers on-board like StarGate and J-Roc) almost seems like pouring more salt on the proverbial open wound, particularly with the album sounding like a modernized version of Jackson's past triumphs. However, in spite of all this, it's pretty surprising how much Xscape
works - especially compared to the record's predecessor Michael
Despite the more modern take on unreleased Jackson material, Xscape feels much more natural and lovingly crafted than Michael
; despite still utilizing a highly synth-ridden sound and numerous elements of trap music, Timbaland remembers to put Jackson at the forefront of the experience. Most of the time, the music simply enhances his performance rather than intruding upon it, especially in moments like the classic 70s disco number "Love Never Felt So Good" or the big band-esque horn bursts of the soulful "Loving You." There's a great balance between the old and modern aspects of this record; the glossy sheen that populates the overall experience proves its relevance in today's pop, but many of the offerings (and of course Jackson's vocals) feel delightfully retro. Many moments are just a ton of fun, like the opening synth to "A Place with No Name" which recalls the funk of Stevie Wonder's 70s funk heyday before delving into a more r&b-oriented form, or the fast-paced synth-heavy "Slave to the Rhythm" whose frantic energy recalls Jackson's own classic song "Workin' All Day and Night." Of course, the varying dynamics and styles of previous Jackson album are still present here, even being incorporated in more of a hip-hip format instrumentally with songs such as the smooth "Chicago" and the lavishly produced and layered "Do You Know Where Your Children Are" to contrast with the other tunes mentioned.
Unfortunately, all of this comes at a price... the very definition of the phrase "pick your poison." There are two versions of Xscape
, a standard version and a deluxe edition. If you get the standard version, be prepared for an incredibly brief record; seriously, it only clocks in at 34:25! However, if you get the deluxe edition, you get an overlong package filled with songs' "original versions" which frankly feel unfinished. There's too much unnecessary baggage to justify purchasing it, so you're presented with a frustrating decision. In the end, though, the original version remains recommended. It might be short, but wouldn't you rather have an appetizer that tastes amazing than an entire meal that tastes undercooked and ruins your day? In the end, it's just nice to hear a posthumous record that acknowledges the legacy and quality of Michael Jackson's material while trying to sonically expand upon his past glories. It may be a mixed bag at times, and waiting four years for 34 minutes of material may ire some listeners, but it's not like many people even expected or wanted another posthumous record of Jackson material anyway. Considering what kind of experiment this was, it turned out pretty damn well.