It's worth noting that the word "ultimate" also means "final," and given the current state of affairs surrounding Michael Jackson, it might be best to consider that double meaning when thinking about The Ultimate Collection, a four-CD box set packaged with a bonus DVD of a concert given in happier times. Beginning with the Jackson 5 and carrying on through the aptly named "We've Had Enough," the set takes in the full scope of the career of the self-proclaimed King Of Pop. Yet in spite of Jackson's claims of uniqueness and the odd turns his career has taken, The Ultimate Collection is most remarkable for its resemblance to other box sets: It starts strong, grows stronger, then fades out somewhere in the middle of the third disc.
After releasing a great string of singles with his brothers, Jackson set out to conquer the world with the Quincy Jones-produced high-disco sound of 1979's Off The Wall, then sealed the deal three years later with Thriller. The Ultimate Collection represents all those eras well, then takes a fans-only detour into rarity territory that touches on "Someone In The Dark" (a storybook track complete with a cameo from E.T.), "We Are Here To Change The World" (from Captain Eo), and assorted demos, before veering back to the familiar with highlights from the 1987 album Bad. Then it gets weird. If the third act of Jackson's career, which began with him smashing a car on national television to promote 1992's Dangerous, is most charitably seen as a private tragedy played out in public, the songs chosen to represent it provide the perfect soundtrack: They're simultaneously paranoid and insanely optimistic, and they show Jackson desperately trying to keep pace with musical tastes that have passed him by. With the passing of time, maybe this unfortunate phase will be forgotten, allowing Jackson's legacy to ultimately rest on the irresistible merits of his best work.