There are said to be hundreds of recordings in the Michael Jackson vault, but only eight songs on Xscape, the second posthumous release since Jackson’s death in 2009. This one has been “contemporized” by a team of ardent-fan producers helmed by Timbaland and including South Jersey native Rodney Jerkins. Up to the minute textures and flourishes are added, taking the final cut out of the hands of a control-freak tinkerer who can no longer have the last word as to what his music sounds like.
Not that Xscape (Epic ** 1/2) is run of the mill necrophilia. Jackson’s legacy has been largely respected. While the beats have been modernized, the basic shape of Jackson’s songs has been maintained - you can tell, because the refurbished cuts are followed by their original versions. And it’s thrilling to hear the fabulously Jackson sweetly croon in “Loving You” and “Love Never Felt So Good” (here done up as a TSOP groove with Justin Timberlake, or forcefully ride the beat in “Slave To The Rhythm” or “A Place With No Name,” which, strangely, bears more than passing musical resemblance to America’s “A Horse With No Name.”
Familiar obsessions are prevalent. Most uncomfortably so in “Do You Know Where Your Children Are?,” in which the late King of Pop, who was charged with (and cleared of) sexual molestation charges in his life sings from beyond the grave about a 12 year old female victim of sexual abuse, and warns parents of how afraid they need to be of sexual predators. He sings it as if he’s the children’s fiercest protector.
He plays the outlaw, a la “Smooth Criminal,” in “Blue Gangsta.” And his desperation is palpable, as he fantasizes about getting away from prying “electric eyes,” not to mention greedy women allegedly after his money, on the Jerkins-produced title cut. Five years after his death, he still sounds trapped in the prison of fame from which he would never escape.