Michael Jackson lives on in the pop-culture afterlife as the whimsically eccentric Peter Pan figure who made universally beloved albums like Off The Wall and Thriller. But the red-jacketed, single-gloved, dark-complected superstar of the late ’70s and early ’80s is not the Michael Jackson heard on Michael, the first in a likely long line of posthumous albums collecting songs from the King Of Pop’s voluminous archive of unreleased music. While some of the material, including the quivering, string-drenched ballad “Much Too Soon,” originates from Jackson’s Thriller period, Michael mostly reflects the paranoid, musically out of touch, deeply unhappy person he became—and who many fans would just as soon forget.
To the degree that Michael has a saving grace, it’s the refreshing lack of overcooked self-indulgence that marred everything Jackson did after Thriller. On the other hand, there’s nothing on Michael worth trumping up. (The album’s 10-song, 41-minute leanness might have less to do with attempted breeziness than plain old stinginess with an eye toward future releases.) After starting off with pleasant but inconsequential tracks like the Akon-assisted “Hold My Hand” and the “Dirty Diana”-like “Hollywood Tonight,” Michael quickly gives way to the toxic self-pity and straight-up delusion that Jackson trafficked in during the final 20 years of his life.
“Monster” and the inexcusable “Breaking News” try to position Jackson as a blameless martyr forever suffering for society’s tabloid-crazy sins, setting aside the troubling contradictions of his life and artistry that the sad, cynical Michael only deepens. Michael gets no points for its unintentionally honest portrayal of Jackson as an emotionally stunted social pariah enabled by a legion of sycophants looking to exploit him. Now that he’s dead, taking advantage of Michael Jackson has never been easier, or more potentially profitable.