Michael Jackson “SCREAM” (Album Review)

CD/digital download available: 29th September 2017

Vinyl record available: 27th October 2017

Produced by: MJJ Productions – Released by: Epic Records/Legacy/Sony Music


 

WELCOME TO YOUR DOOM

As Maestro of All Hallows Eve’s unofficial anthem, Michael Jackson has for many years been synonymous with the witching season. But it is not just on 1982’s monster hit “Thriller” (and that John Landis-directed 1984 short film) that the King of Pop got to indulge his love of the macabre in his music. While Christmas albums have long been a profitable tradition, this creepy compilation – the brainchild of the late star’s prolific Estate – is perhaps the first high profile Halloween-themed set. Executive producers John Branca and John McClain will hope Scream will rise from the grave to haunt record store shelves every October.

Only announced three mere weeks ago, Scream caused a clamour amongst fans when posters for a ‘new’ album appeared in major cities, just ahead of a stylish 30-second animated advertisement which embraced all manner of spooky imagery, culminating in the reveal of the superb cover art. Given that 90% of the musical material is previously released, there was understandable disappointment amongst the hardcore Moonwalkers that this release was ignoring the loyal fanbase in favour of attracting a new generation of fans.

And while I undeniably count myself amongst the most fervent of MJ admirers, I also realise that with my idol gone, the Estate cannot continually release unreleased recordings at such a rampant pace. In the last eight years we have had the equivalent of at least three-album’s worth of new music – far more than we would have got had the King of Pop still been alive. In our impatience to hear EVERYTHING, we risk all-too-quickly exhausting the finite number of gems still locked away in the vault. Scream is an admirably creative attempt at cornering an untapped market on a long-term scale, while continuing to promote and celebrate Michael Jackson’s legacy.

Do I have qualms with the tracklist? Certainly. For starters, some of the selections are down-right dubious: “Leave Me Alone” and “Dirty Diana” are only present to give Bad some coverage; “Dangerous”, the title track and 2001’s “Unbreakable” are more darkly-mysterious and angry in tone than outright ‘horror’; “Xscape” is clearly only included to give a posthumous release some legitimacy. Meanwhile, valid options (such as both “Is It Scary” and “2 Bad” from 1997’s underrated masterpiece Ghosts) have been left off. “Monster”, from 2010’s controversial first posthumous release Michael, would also have been a dream fit, but on-going protests over the authenticity of the ‘Cascio tracks’ has seen the Estate rule out any further use.

I could also bemoan the fact that some of the more popular and frequently-released tracks are once again released in their original album cuts. Given its recent usage in the Stranger Things Season Two trailer, could that new and unreleased remix of “Thriller” not have made an appearance? How about the dancier live edit of “Dangerous”? Or the cancelled and more succinct radio edit of epic-lengthed “Unbreakable”? These are seemingly trivial things, but each would have made the set all the more attractive to long-term followers.

The press release stressed that Scream focuses on MJ’s “most electrifying” songs, so it could be argued that “Is It Scary” was left off as it is slower in pace than “Ghosts”, a song which it also shares a lot in common with. This may also explain why rare track “Scared of the Moon” was not included, as this 80s off-cut is a ballad. It was also given a release on 2004’s box-set The Ultimate Collection, but given the Estate’s penchant for remixes, I wonder whether a Timberland/Darkchild-esque producer couldn’t have pumped new life into this little-known gem and granted Scream a really note-worthy lead single.

As it is, Rockwell’s funky frightener “Somebody’s Watching Me” (which MJ provided the choruses for) is the album’s only rare cut, having never before featured on an official Michael Jackson release, while a truly magnificent five song mash-up courtesy of contemporary spinners White Panda is the only new content. It’s just a shame that Blood on the Dance Floor x Dangerous (The White Panda Mash-up), to give the bonus track its tongue-tying full title, was essentially gifted to Shazam app users and pre-order-ers before the album was released, rather than given a snappier title (for what it’s worth, I would have gone for “Susie Says”), a music video and a decent chance as a proper single release.

So, yeah, Scream has its issues. But this is coming from a mega-fan who has everything from MJ wristwatches to stamp books! To the mainstream music-buying public, this is audible gold. Seriously, even the lesser known tracks (such as opener “This Place Hotel” and “Torture” from the Jacksons) are funky, five-star foot-tappers, and it is great that some post-80s output is finally getting the chance to shine (say hello “Threatened”). The promotion and artwork, designed by UK artist Matt Taylor, is also fabulous and the booklet folds out into a poster which comes alive via a thrilling Augmented Reality experience when you point your Shazam-enabled phone at it.

In a surprising move, release day also saw something of a bonus in the form of a celebratory new Midnight Hour remix of “Thriller” by DJ Steve Aoki being made available to purchase online. Purists will bemoan its modern flourishes and praise Epic/Legacy for not adding it to the album’s tracklist, but any ‘new’ Michael Jackson – particularly tracks which will get his work increased exposure on radio and in clubs – is a plus to me… Can you dig it?!

CR@B’s Claw Score: 4 stars

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