With any posthumous release you get a complicated situation. Questions such as: what has been tampered with, and how far removed from the original artist’s intention is the release? Why release something deemed previously unacceptable? These questions are often asked and in the case of this new Jackson album it is worth examining and clarifying a few things.
Firstly, in the last day a few sites have gone all crazy claiming the title track of the album leaked. They are correct, but this big news is a sheep in wolf’s skin. The apparent leak of Xscape is the original version that leaked over 10 years ago so it isn’t news, but at least it keeps the album publicised without Sony having to do any work for it. Funnily enough this nicely brings me to the first point. Many commenters say ‘Why release it now?’. Simply because it was intended to be released THEN. The track was left of the Invincible album and probably a good shout considering it might have been mixed up with some of the similar beat driven tracks on the album. It was probably tweaked and Jackson and the management intended for the song to be released sometime around 2003. The exact intentions are confusing, however on the Number Ones compilation a new song was included (One More Chance) and it was suggested that plans for a similar styled release to the History album was intended with some additional cuts being included that probably became the Ultimate Collection eventually. However when the song was leaked Jackson dropped the track from any subsequent release. To include a version on a new album (albeit in both original and ‘reworked’ form) is a good shout. He has intended to release it but only canned the plans once pesky internet file sharing sites spread the track around.
Similarly, other tracks suited to this new posthumous release were being continually worked on and had many notes to base changes on as well as intended plans. A set of songs was pinned to a wall in Jackson’s bedroom when he died in 2009 which included many of the tracks that are rumoured to appear on the new album. Speculation suggests that 6 out of the 8 tracks have been leaked in some form and so whilst this album is a mixture of new and heard material, it’ll be the first time many casual fans will have heard the tracks, as well as the version Jackson himself last worked on.
Should an artist have works released posthumously though? Honestly, it is a question that deserves to be asked. Who knows what could have changed under their guidance? Posthumous releases look like greedy cash grabs and that easily puts a lot of fans off and most posthumous releases are marginally mediocre oft not. So why release it at all? Because the demand still exists. People wish for more, if the management are greedy it is because fans are equally so. It has been a long standing tradition to re-release albums with additional cut and demo material simply as it is interesting. This sometimes amusing, engaging, human, and many other aspects make some demos a gem to listen to and some cut songs questionably better than some of those that made the album. In Jackson’s case, Streetwalker from Bad 2001 Re-release was intended for the album only to be canned in the final stages instead for Another Part of Me. Quincy Jones apparently made that call, and in some eyes that is the correct call, in other eyes and mistake. It is the same reason why fans will debate track listings and try to come up with something that flows more consistently. Also with any album, a track may be left off despite it being a noticeably better track simply because it works against the rest of the album, it has no consistency or relevancy to the majority of the other tracks and in an album it is one of the biggest calls to make or break an album. These tracks often end up as B-Sides that help round out the album and add to the ‘canon’ of an artist’s history.
What tracks are going to be on the album? Well according to some (Damienshields website for example – and he knows what he is on about) the track listing is looking a lot like this:
Again some of these tracks have been leaked in some form over the years. Slave to the Rhythm was initially toyed with for the first posthumous Jackson release and a leaked version of the uptempo ‘house’ track that resulted from those sessions has been floating around for a while. Funnily enough, this version could even be the ‘new’ version for the record but I suspect it will be the Timbaland ‘Orchestral’ hip-hop style one. The original track has never been publicly leaked or heard yet.
The simple fact of the matter is this album will have the stigma about it that all posthumous releases has, and always will. They’ll be looked at with a coy smirk and wince as fans wish to enjoy the new material but are stuck wondering, what if? Why wonder? Consider it a separate artist and review it based on that. No one person is the lead in orchestrating the perfect album release. If anything Thriller would have been noticeably worse in Jackson had got his way and included the soppy Carousel instead of Human Nature, a song that became a live show highlight. So a posthumous release can be looked upon in a similar manner, and the careful nature of this release suggests that Epic and the estate have a lot of faith in their decision. The reworked tracks have been highly lauded by critics so far, and the album can be ordered in a deluxe package that’ll include the ‘final’ versions Jackson had worked on in his lifetime. This removes any doubt that these songs aren’t his, and enables fans to hear what could have been and what can be in equal measure. The biggest criticism is the fact that so many of the rumoured songs have been leaked, but they probably leaked because they were continually evaluated by Jackson during his life and thus CD copies were continually made and shared, unfortunately some people get their hands on one and it eventually leaks.
It is amusing at the state of the internet and professionally run websites that they all rely upon churnalism. MTV I believe originally stated the title track had leaked yesterday, despite it being the leak from 10 years ago. And since then many other articles have appeared online all trying to excitingly reveal the news that fans and people with long term memories have known about for a while. It really shows the horribly poor nature and the fact they’d so publicly dig it up could discourage people as many articles fail to address the fact that the song is an unfinished work from 2001.