XPOSING THE BLUEPRINTS
Reaching #1 around the world, receiving healthy reviews, regular radio spins and music channel plays and introducing a new generation to the genius that is Michael Jackson, it is fair to say that Sony’s second major posthumous album, 2014’s Xscape, was a sizable hit. But for all its critical and commercial success, the album left a sour taste in the mouth of some long-term supporters.
Motivated by his dissatisfaction that the King of Pop’s “unpolished gems” were relegated to deluxe edition bonus tracks in lieu of what were essentially newly produced remixes by big name producers du jour (Timbaland, StarGate, J-Roc), lifelong Australian mega-fan Damien Shields began to research and compile a book through which he could shine a light on the work, energy and passion which his idol put into perfecting the original unreleased tracks and demo versions.
“A perfectionist has to take his time…. He shapes and he moulds and he sculpts that thing until it’s perfect. He can’t let it go before he’s satisfied; he can’t.”
Xscape Origins: The Songs & Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind (to give its full, synopsis-encompassing title) is that book, stitching myriad collaborator interviews, studio anecdotes, hard facts and song trivia into an easily accessible and moreish read. Shields self-deprecatingly reduces his input to that of “storyteller” in his ‘Introduction’, but he should be commended for his journalist talent in conveying what could be a deluge of baffling and boring details in a light and enlightening document. The fact that the book concludes with FIFTEEN pages of ‘Sources’ and ‘Acknowledgements’ cements the author’s exhaustive commitment to this defiant passion project.
Taking the album’s eight tracks chapter-by-chapter, Origin’s economic length is constricted by the source material’s skimpy duration. But within each chapter a wealth of knowledge is imparted – some of which I, as a diehard fan since the age of 7, was shocked to learn and surprised I had never heard before. That Shields was able to bag exclusive interviews with such A-list musicians and engineers as Michael Prince, Brad Buxer, Cory Rooney, Dr. Freeze and Rodney Jerkins (to name but a few) is a major coup – and shows how much their time writing and recording with Michael Jackson resonates even with industry professionals.
It’s just a pity that due to its antagonistic, record company and Estate-needling nature Xscape Origins will only ever be an unofficial fan-made curio, as the prose content is breathtakingly insightful. Sadly prose is all it consists of, where some photographs and pictorial documentation (of studio sessions, handwritten lyrics, etcetera) would undoubtedly have elevated this slim paperback into an even more compelling and well-rounded glimpse into the creative process of one of music’s most inspirational and enigmatic legends.