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.

… Keep Scuttling!

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The Jacksons at Newmarket Nights (Live Review)

Jacksons Newmarket

Newmarket Racecourse, Suffolk – 30th June 2017 – Tickets from £35.00

Official WebsiteTour Dates


 

DANCING MACHINES

The weather forecast for last night in Newmarket was dire. Torrential rain dire. Not the kind of night to pop out for a pint of milk, much less to stand in the middle of a grassy field for two hours. But then last night was no ordinary night, because the Jacksons were in town!

… Keep Scuttling!

Michael Jackson – Auckland 1996 (Album Review)

Label: Zip City

Release date: 10th June 2016


 

HIS UNMASTERED VOICE

Testament to my unhealthily compulsive buy-first-regret-later obsession with anything Michael Jackson is this blatantly unauthorised (yet widely available, even making onto the “HMV Recommends” display in my local branch!) TV rip of the New Zealand Broadcast from 11th November 1996 of the King of Pop’s Ericsson Arena, Auckland stop on his mammoth HIStory World Tour.

… Keep Scuttling!

Xscape Origins (Book Review)

Written by: Damien Shields
Published by: Modegy, 2015.
141 pages.
damienshields.com         xscapeorgins.com


 

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.

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars

Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off The Wall (CD/Blu-ray Review)


12 – 93mins – 2016


WHEN THE WORLD IS ON YOUR SHOULDER…

Back in 2012, The Estate of Michael Jackson went all-out with a mega-impressive, multi-platform cornucopia of releases to celebrate the silver anniversary of 1987’s Bad album. Mouth-watering for diehard fans (amongst which I count myself), the mix of CD, DVD, regular, deluxe, super-deluxe and standalone formats confounded and overwhelmed casual music listeners, and the project did not hit the sales target Sony Music were hoping for.

The outcome of this was that acclaimed director Spike Lee’s anticipated feature-length Bad 25 documentary was somewhat overshadowed by album, concert and bonus disc releases, to such a degree that when it finally saw a home video release the following year, it was quietly snuck out as a web-store exclusive which, to this day, is rarely in stock.

For these reasons, The Estate have taken a more stripped back approach in releasing Lee’s follow-up passion piece on the King of Pop’s seminal debut solo LP, Off The Wall. So, gone are the confusing multi-disc bundles chock-full of club-friendly remixes, demos and rarities, gone are the live album and concert tour DVDs, and gone are the fan-servicing super-deluxe packages replete with programmes, t-shirts and posters. In their place we get the new documentary (on your choice of either DVD or Blu-ray format) together with the original 1979 album, as the artist originally released it – oh, and a piece of chalk, to graffiti the gatefold ‘wall’ in any cover-inspired way you see fit!The loyal fanbase will bemoan the omission of additional content (after all, who doesn’t already own multiple copies of Off The Wall?), but there’s something to be said – in this digital age of self-compiled playlists and shuffle buttons – for presenting Michael’s definitive, untouched vision for a new generation to appreciate. Meanwhile, older generations have the opportunity to rediscover this culturally significant album which is often unfairly overshadowed by the monster industry-shaping landmarks which followed.

I will shamefully confess that prior to this sets’ release last Friday, it had been a good few years since I last played the album front-to-back, but what instantly hit me as I soaked it in anew, was the energy and youthful exuberance which shines through, not only on the disco-infused hit singles everyone knows (Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough, Rock With You, Working Day And Night), but even on the lesser-known album tracks – including saccharine-sweet McCartney-penned ditty Girlfriend, which is generally dismissed as an easy skip!

So, what of Lee’s mouthful-monikered film? The Do The Right Thing director sticks to a very similar style and structure as on Bad 25, editing knockout performance footage and archival interviews with the man himself alongside present day talking heads of friends, family, musical collaborators and famous fans to best tell the incredible story of Michael’s phenomenal journey from cherubic lead signer in a Motown pop band to artistic juggernaut and biggest star on the planet. Like before, the second half delves deeper into the creation process with a track-by-track examination of the 1979 LP.

Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off The Wall is a fascinating and inspiring film packed with production tidbits and behind the scenes anecdotes which is clearly crafted with L.O.V.E.. It benefits from a trimmer runtime than its ungainly predecessor (Estate executive John Branca allegedly requested a tighter edit) and fewer pointless testimonials from five minute wonders who never met the man. Sure, John Legend, Mark Ronson, Pharrell Williams and The Weekend do all feature, but their contribution is more insightful and heartfelt than Justin Bieber’s gushing over Bad.

What most touched me as the feature drew to a close was how – even after 25 years of fervent fandom – Spike Lee still managed to open my eyes to the spellbinding talent, humility and drive which made Michael Joseph Jackson a real one off; truly irreplaceable. I will happily admit to welling up on multiple occasions as it hit home – not for the first or last time – how much this special man has inspired, brightened and impacted my life. His work will continue to entertain and amaze and, thanks to documentaries such as this one, his legacy will continue to burn bright for generations to come.

Chalk this one up as a success!

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars