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Album Michael review door The Telegraph (Engels)

Hier is een review over het nieuwe album Michael van The Telegraph, de review is in het Engels:

'This life don’t last forever,” sings Michael Jackson on the opening line of his new single, Hold My Hand. It might be a poignant observation, the last words of a tragic superstar delivered as if from beyond the grave, if it weren’t for the fact that death is not proving particularly permanent either.

Next Monday sees the release of Michael, his first new studio album in nine years. On pre-orders alone, it should go straight to number one around the world. Hold My Hand, Jackson’s duet with r’n’b writer-producer Akon is already racing up the charts, full of breathy exultations of the power of togetherness, while gospel choirs raise their voices in the background. It has the extraordinary confidence of a pop classic and presages an album that may well be Jackson’s best work since his Eighties glory days.

Michael bursts with verve and confidence, with lots of inspirational, uplifting anthems and melodic, sweetly sung ballads. There’s a fantastic, snarling rocker, featuring Lenny Kravitz: (I Can’t Make It) Another Day; an utterly bonkers, epic dance reworking of the Eric Clapton classic Behind the Mask featuring Japanese electro pioneers Yellow Magic Orchestra and a trio of snappily, percussive groove workouts. The stand-out is Monster, which comes across as a 21st-century glam stomping zombie cousin of Thriller, with thug rapper 50 Cent proclaiming “the King has risen”. Who would have thought Jackson had it in him?

The only problem, of course, is that 50 Cent never met Jackson, and a conspiracy theory has quickly developed on internet fan forums, suggesting that the tracks are fake and the vocals the work of an impersonator. But minor quibbles aside, the self-proclaimed King of Pop is well and truly back in business.

When Jackson died, on June 25, 2009, aged 50, his career and finances were in a parlous state. It is almost hard to remember now what a pariah he had become: dogged by (ultimately unsubstantiated) child molestation prosecutions, pursued by creditors and at loggerheads with his record company, Sony Music. His last album, the inappropriately titled Invincible, was a critical and commercial disaster in 2001. A Wall Street Journal investigation claimed his debts were approaching $500million, after two decades of conspicuous extravagance, allied to declining output and sales. Court documents released at his 2005 trial suggested that Jackson’s lifestyle was hopelessly dissolute, sleeping late, self-medicating on painkillers from silver pillboxes, watching Disney films and drinking bottle after bottle of expensive wine. His planned comeback with his O2 concert series was the first part of a three-year plan meant to restore his fortunes. But there were serious doubts about whether it would prove a success, and indeed whether an increasingly embattled and reluctant Jackson would even turn up.

Death changed everything. Ambivalent feelings about his behaviour were overwhelmed by a potent combination of tragedy and nostalgia, with Jackson evoked in terms of his incredible youthful achievement rather than adult decline. Amazon sold more Jackson albums in the 24 hours after his death than it had in the previous 11 years. He was Jackson was the best-selling artist of 2009, shifting over 40 million albums worldwide. This year, Forbes named him the highest earning dead celebrity, with gross income of $275million. He’s had posthumous number ones, a hit film and now, with his highest album pre-sales ever, Jackson is in poll position to top the Christmas charts. Not bad for a washed up dead man.

Even during his decade-long dispute with Sony and effective retirement from the stage, Jackson never stopped recording. He was frequently reported to be working in studios with hot young urban producers, including Will.i.am (of Black Eyed Peas) and Lady GaGa collaborator RedOne. But Jackson declined to release the recordings. In denial about his public standing, and in search of that elusive cutting-edge hit that would confirm his own status as the greatest pop star of all time, Jackson would abandon sessions and move on. There was considerable frustration at Sony about Jackson’s fickleness. New projects were mooted and embarked upon with great excitement, but dropped just as quickly. A question frequently raised among those working with him was how much Jackson really wanted to come back.

Since his death, various factions within his estate, including different managers and rights holders, have been gathering tracks from the vaults. There are rumoured to be hundreds, dating back to the early Eighties.

Jackson’s first posthumous album concentrates (although not exclusively) on material recorded since 2007, which has been painstakingly completed by original producers and long-time Jackson associate Teddy Riley (who had worked on Jackson’s albums since 1991). It hasn’t been without controversy. Will.i.am was amongst several who declined to allow the inclusion of their Jackson collaborations. “All the songs coming out now were around when he was alive, so why didn’t he put them out then?” says Will.i.am. “He was a perfectionist, and this might be a Michael Jackson album, but it’s not Michael Jackson’s album.”

Meanwhile, the Michael Jackson Estate responded to questions of authenticity by releasing their own research into the origins of each recording, complete with testimony from producers, engineers and musicologists. According to Teddy Riley: “I’ve explored Michael’s vocal ability from baritone and tenor, to alto and soprano. As the years went by, I’ve witnessed his tones changing, sometimes up or down. I have no doubts these are Michael’s vocals.”

Indeed, in the context of the whole album, such rumours are exposed as conspiracy nonsense. You can really hear Jackson sing, and, at times, it is a breathtaking thing. Perhaps because many are presumably demo takes, the vocals have an appealing looseness and spontaneity. There are, inevitably, sad foreshadowings of his fate. On Breaking News, a snarling, staccato boogie about press persecution, he complains of journalists who “want to write my obituary” . On the McCartney-esque ballad Best of Joy, he innocently trills, “I am forever.” But there is little to learn from these lyrics, as they veer between paranoia about fame and homilies to the power of love. But you don’t listen to Jackson album’s for lyrical insight. His singing voice is tremendous, his rhythmic sensibility extraordinary.

There has been a lot of special pleading by the Michael Jackson Estate about “completing the album that Michael set out to make”. Somehow, I doubt this is it. The album closes with two tracks left over from the Eighties. If they hadn’t surfaced for 20 years, there was little chance of them featuring on an album made by Jackson while he was around to call the shots.

None the less, it is a fine album and it is probably a better one than Jackson might have delivered left to his own devices. Without him around to prevaricate, second-guess himself and constantly cast aside songs in search of some elusive ideal, Sony have been able to assemble a collection of the best available recordings. Although lacking the overall sense of vision Jackson might have brought to the project, it is surprising how coherent it is. His utterly distinctive voice and very particular writing styles bind it together.

It turns out that the music he was making in his final years really wasn’t so different to the music he made in his heyday. It is certainly a great deal better than anyone had any right to expect. And so it seems that death really has no dominion over the music business. Jackson is finally about to get the comeback he craved.

The album is currently being streamed live at www.michaeljackson.com

Source: The Telegraph

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