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I didn’t know if I was going to like this or not simply because I’m wary about third parties working on music conceived by another, especially when that ‘another’ is dead. Well, the voice is definitely Michael while the eight tracks have been contemporised by a team of producers under the guidance of US hip hop producer Timbaland and Epic Records’ chairman L A Reid. Quite frankly, these were busting to be heard; the opening track and first single “Love Never Felt So Good” (written by Michael and Paul Anka) proves that. His spiritual naivety is blissful as the music wraps itself around his vocals, while “Chicago” hits the spot, as it slow burns into a crescendo of a love situation that’s not what it seems. The purity of his innocent vocals are clearly, and possibly wistfully, apparent in “Loving You” as it winds itself over a mid tempo, defining beat. I particularly love “Do You Know Where Your Children Are”, first recorded during the “Bad” sessions, further developed during “Dangerous”, but unreleased until now. As you’d imagine, the defining lyrics are darkly delivered, with searing messages relating to the dangerous world that a child lives in by trusting the wrong people. Thought provoking, and worthy of single release I’d say. “Blue Gangsta” was one of a trio of tracks Michael worked on with Dr Freeze during the “Invincible” period, and considered to be the sequel to “Smooth Criminal”. Certainly that springs to mind as the music hits you between the eyes. Then there’s “Slave To The Rhythm” where the funk hits dance hits funk. Originally recorded for the “Dangerous” sessions, it’s instant, vital and decidedly chilly. Last evening I saw a hologram of Michael performing this track at the Billboard Music Awards. With ‘live’ dancers, they all moved in sequence and, looking from an audience view point, I actually thought it was Michael. To say I was spooked would be an understatement. It was too real for my liking, but I guess I’m in the minority as the reviewers, critics and his fans appear unharnessed in their far reaching joy. It’s nearly five years since Michael’s death and “Xscape” is the second posthumous compilation of unreleased tracks, and the second that the Jackson estate has approved for release by Sony Music Entertainment. When I first heard the title track, my mind instantly returned to an earlier release, and was gratified to know the track was intended for the “Invincible” album in 2001. Following on from Michael’s penchant for single word album titles, it seemed logical to keep it going. Hence “Xscape”. Would Michael have liked this? Yes I believe he would have. The fact that the A-team producers of the business have worked some kind of musical magic with his vocals, some of which were recorded as scratchy demos, proves that Michael’s work is timeless; that it’s malleable, universal. Would Michael have produced the tracks in the same way? Well, that’s debatable because he was either too tender, or too harsh with his music; sometimes merely needing to hint at a melody, or wanting to thrust the notes down our throats. The compromise has been made here, and the line drawn. I’m heartened that the producers now involved have dedicated their talents to highlighting Michael’s voice in all its guises rather than indulging in their own egos, and by doing so have protected his precious musical heritage. By keeping him alive – and I don’t mean with holograms either – not only will his family continue to rake in the dollars (like they need it), but we can be assured of a future that will recall the star in his prime, when he was untouchable, and, of course, unreachable. Let’s now see what Motown have up their sleeves!

Rating: 9

About the Writer
Sharon Davis ran the Four Tops fan club before spearheading Motown Ad Astra, catering for all the Motown acts, where she edited the in-house magazine TCB. Was publicist for Fantasy, Stax and Salsoul before joining Motown Records in London. Formed her own press/promotion company Eyes & Ears, worked for Blues & Soul magazine and website, and became a full time author and researcher. To date Sharon has written eleven books (her last A Girl Called Dusty published by Carlton Books) and she’s working on her next - Divas Of Motown. As a researcher, Sharon assisted Diana Ross with her autobiography Secrets Of A Sparrow, and is now in constant demand for her knowledge about Motown and its artists.



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