As we all know, on the 25th June, 2009, one of the greatest contributors to the music industry, Michael Joseph Jackson, tragically passed away at his home in Los Angeles. His fans were distraught; others were still saddened; those who weren’t really aware of his music still felt the loss. Such was the impact this man had on society. Everywhere you turned, you would come across some kind of MJ reference. He had appeared on The Simpsons; Thriller is still the best-selling album of all time; everyone knows the words to ‘ABC’ – but the man who made the music was gone, and as such, never again would we hear his great music.
That was, until the inevitable cascade of attempts to capitalise on the man’s death began to hit the media. His plans for a tour entitled This Is It may have been dashed, but it wasn’t long until a career-spanning compilation album of the same name hit the stores, quickly followed by a concert film compiled from the existing footage from the rehearsals for the tour. One new song, ‘This Is It’, taken from an unused Jackson 5 recording, was included, and it felt as though it nicely wrapped up Jackson’s long and highly distinguished career.
And then, as expected, Sony Music signed a multi-million dollar deal to release ten new albums until 2017, consisting of the ‘hundreds’ of unreleased songs recorded in the years preceding his death, or songs which had been attempted earlier but, for various reasons, left unfinished. To some, this was a disrespectful act, as Michael would obviously be unable to give the tracks his blessing, his family expressing concern that he would hate the songs to be released in their current state. Others, myself included, were excited about this idea – new, unheard MJ material could surely be nothing other than a good thing, provided his estate was to benefit from it. And besides, recordings being released after the artist’s death is something which has become the norm: for example, Freddie Mercury had his material released in 1995 on an album called Made in Heaven, and Amy Winehouse is due to have hers released on Lioness later this year. Capitalising on someone’s death is something which is almost totally foreseeable now, and the idea didn’t really bother me.
And as such, when Michael was released in 2010, I was filled with anticipation. And, upon listening, I was not disappointed – yes, one song (‘(I Like) The Way You Love Me’) had already been released in a different form, and I was not entirely convinced that the voice on the three Eddie Cascio/James Porte-composed tracks (‘Keep Your Head Up’, ‘Monster’ and ‘Breaking News’) was actually Michael, but the album was very enjoyable, and I naturally looked forward to hearing more material in the near future.
And so, we come to 2011, when the second new studio album has been released.
But, oddly, it isn’t a studio album.
No: it is in fact a ‘remix’ album called Immortal released to accompany the new Cirque de Soleil show of the same name. The album is available in both standard 20-track and deluxe 27-track formats. Being a big Jackson fan, I elected the listen to the longer version. And was I disappointed?
The album goes on for an epic 103 minutes and, as a result, it is virtually impossible to listen to it in one sitting.
But, I hear you say, how can one get bored of Michael Jackson songs?
With this album, very easily. The main problem is that the album purports to be made up of ‘remixes’, but in reality the term ‘compilation’ seems more fitting.
The main problem with the album is that the remixes are incredibly poor. In fact, for the most part I do not feel they deserve to be referred to as such, seeming more like ‘remasters’ than anything else – the sound is clearer, and the volume has been increased, but, apart from perhaps one or two tracks, the majority of the songs sound very similar to their original forms. The most that has happened to the main body of the album is an altered backing track, which to me doesn’t seem to do much to change the listening experience. I might as well have been listening to the originals, so bad was the remixing. And, having said that, with regards some tracks I was certain I was listening to the originals – if you were to listen to the Immortal versions of ‘Workin’ Day and Night’, ‘Thriller’, ‘Man in the Mirror’, ‘Gone Too Soon’ and ‘They Don’t Care About Us’, I would be quite willing to bet my fortune (what there is of it) that you would struggle to hear any existing difference from their Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad, Dangerous and HIStory counterparts (apart from, maybe, the sudden inclusion of whistling and a slightly reordered structure in ‘Thriller’).
As regards the parts of the album where two or more songs have been combined, or ‘mashed-up’ (as I believe the term on the street is nowadays), I am torn. Some of them have been really well done. In particular, I am quite enamoured with ‘The Jackson 5 Medley’, where ‘I Want You Back’, ‘ABC’ and ‘The Love You Save’ have been stitched together into one single track; the new song seems very original, and almost feels like a good conclusion to a live performance by the group. Unfortunately, the tracks are left more or less in their original form, but they work incredibly well together. The same goes for ‘The Immortal Megamix’, which is one of the most amazing tracks I have ever heard, and I would have no qualms about listening to ‘Dancing Machine/Blame it on the Boogie’ again. However, the majority of these ‘medleys’ are done very poorly, particularly with regards ‘Beat It/State of Shock’, where the unchanged version of one song can be distinctly heard to end before a slightly rearranged version of the other commences. To me, it sounded as though they should have simply been left as separate tracks, the transition between the two being so blatant it should not have been classed as a medley in the first place. Other placed where two songs are combined, I found issue with the tracks chosen – awful combinations such as ‘Scream/Little Suzie’ and ‘Remember the Time/Bad’ where the tempos and styles of the selected tracks differ far too much to ever have made a good mash-up. Whoever thought these were good ideas seriously needs to have their musical ear checked out, as no MJ track has ever made me cringe more than ‘Best of Joy’ from Michael.
However, do not be deceived into thinking the album is entirely compiled of already-heard material. There are some new tracks included, namely ‘The immortal Intro’ and ‘The Mime Segment’ – but these are, sadly, not really Michael Jackson songs, but in fact new tracks created by putting together various samples from numerous famous Jackson tracks, archive material and audience participation. But, the real question is, do they sound good? Well… no. In fact, the former of these unavoidably reminds me of the terrible Beatles ‘masterpiece’ ‘Revolution 9’ from The White Album – I never thought one of my favourite artists could ever come close to disappointing me as much as the Beatles did with that album: how wrong I was.
However, the album isn’t all bad. The new version of ‘Smooth Criminal’ is very good, incorporating some nice string sounds into the song in a very effective way. The same can be said for the new version of ‘Ben’, which has been highly modernised, and sounds even better than before. But these positives are not enough to outweigh the negatives. Perhaps they do save the album from becoming the only 1/10 album one of my favourite artists has ever provided. That said, it doesn’t help it out much and, sadly, I am forced to give it the lowest mark I have ever given anything that wasn’t U2: 2/10. I would strongly recommend that hardcore Jackson enthusiasts stay away from this collection and instead wait for the highly-anticipated album of unreleased Michael Jackson/Freddie Mercury duets to come out in 2012. Maybe if treated as a compilation album, those who know less of Jacko will perhaps be satisfied, but unfortunately its major downfall, I feel, is in its reality as a shoddily-assembled attempt to bring something new to tracks that were fine as they were, and were perhaps best left that way, or at least put into the hands of somebody competent who knew how to treat these songs with respect. Maybe then these remixes could have had some justice done to them. But, in Immortal’s ultimate state, 1997’s Blood on the Dancefloor remains a superior remix suite.