As Sony releases their second posthumous Michael Jackson album, lifelong MJ disciple Anders Christian Madsen ponders the real purpose of Xscape.
Being a Michael Jackson devotee was never an easy undertaking. All my life I’ve had to argue with bullies, ignorant tabloid junkies, and anti-dreamers to defend a person I never got to meet even though he shaped big parts of my personality and my view of the world. But while the public showed Michael a hard time in his personal life, at least his music always spoke for itself. I think that’s why nothing infuriates me more than when people assume that Michael ‘stopped making music’ or ‘couldn’t get his act together’ during the last decade of his life.
“I adore the family life, I adore children, and I adore that whole thing,” he told Oprah Winfrey in 1993. “And I would love to – that's one of my dreams – but I couldn't right now because I'm married to my music and there has to be that closeness in order to do the kind of work that I want to do.” Music was Michael’s craft, but his children were his life. When he released Invincible some years into fatherhood, it was because he was ready to write songs about this new chapter in his life. The reason we have that album, and the six others, is because they charted Michael’s life. Not because he pushed himself to churn out new albums.
While any posthumous Michael Jackson release is bound to stir up emotions in certain parts of his fan camps, in a weird way I take comfort in these records for the fact that they prove he was composing all along – even if the songs on the new album are older than the ones on 2012’s Michael. I don’t think albums such as Xscape – the compilation of previously unreleased Michael Jackson tracks that comes out today – should be seen as an album in the tradition of the solo records he released in his lifetime. A number of the tracks have made the rounds in cyberspace for years now, and even if they’ve been jazzed up – excuse the inappropriate term – it’s not as if their existence change anything in Michael’s legacy.
One of the reasons for Michael’s incomparable longevity and universally celebrated work was the timelessness of his music. Despite its disco elements, Rock With You could just as easily have been produced in 2009 as it could 1979, and while Scream couldn’t have been produced in the late 70s, it could certainly have been written in the early 2010s. Or in the future, for that matter. This is true for about ninety percent of Michael’s catalogue, which covers several different producers, who couldn’t possibly all have shared the gift of timelessness.
Of course, Michael didn’t become Michael by thinking himself too good for group work. (The presence of Quincy Jones and Teddy Riley in his legacy certainly can’t be denied.) But he became Michael by always being in charge and never releasing anything without tweaking it to his manically perfectionist standards, and his personal taste. It’s due to the natural lack of that on the new album, as well as the influence of time and trend-specific producers, that it could never strive to compete with any other Michael Jackson album, and I don’t think the producers of Xscape would ever expect it to.
We have to view these posthumous albums as individual chapters in a never-ending celebration of the finest artist the world has ever known. It’s not about keeping Michael’s memory alive – because who could ever kill it? – but about small reminders of the constant stream of creativity this supernatural mind produced. Buy Xscape to remember Michael’s greatness, buy it to compare it to his legacy, or buy it as a contribution to his Estate, which will one day be passed on to his three children, who were much more important to him than releasing an album every four years.
Every day I miss Michael, but I console myself that at least we gave him a couple of years to lead the family life he always wanted before we came knocking on his door yet again, dragging him out for rehearsals and a tour that would ultimately never happen. Even in death we want Michael keep giving us more of the music we could never get enough of. And hopefully, in the beyond, Michael is taking that as a compliment. “My purpose? To give in the best way I can through song, and through dance, and through music,” he once said. “I believe that all art has, as its ultimate goal, the union between the material and the spiritual, the human and the divine. I believe that to be the reason for the very existence of art.”