THIS "NEW MICHAEL JACKSON SINGLE" BUSINESS
Alright, yeah, seriously, fucking listen for a second, rabid Jackson fans. For those who don't already know the story, they released the first posthumous Michael Jackson single, "Breaking News," to the Internet this week. The entertainment world is in an uproar because the Jackson family on one side is insisting that the track is not authentic, while Sony and a team of voice experts are insisting that it is. Many fans are prematurely taking sides, I suppose because they didn't expect the drama to lessen any now that Michael is dead.
REASONS WHY IT MIGHT NOT BE MICHAEL:
- It doesn't really match his style lyrically. Yes, Michael has referred to drama in his life in past songs, but always obliquely, and never specifically mentioning himself in the third person. He wrote a song that everyone widely agrees is about the Santa Barbara District Attorney who went after his ass twice, and he didn't actually refer to the guy by name, going the route of a similar-sounding name instead. He never took a "poor me" tack, and the lyrics to this song are pretty blatantly that tack, very accusatory and dare I say self-pitying.
- It sounds like a Jackson clone song rather than the real thing. It has all the elements you'd expect of one of Michael's more angst-ridden tracks, but it seems more like something attempting desperately to sound like him rather than actually one of his own, sort of like when Diane Warren once tried to write a Jim Steinman song for Meat Loaf.
- It honestly reminds me strongly of a typical "posthumous" single in the industry. It sort of smacks to me of those 2Pac raps that were constantly being released in a steady stream that began featuring more and more performers we hadn't even heard of in Pac's day, clearly being mainly a new track with some left-over Pac lines. It sounds like that kind of thing, constructed out of fragments and turned into something only slightly more substantial.
- He's almost too angry. It's pretty clear why this song was chosen as the first release, but it's almost too accusatory. The lyrics and subject matter practically scream "LOOK WHAT YOU DID TO ME, DAMMIT!" Now, I dunno, I've heard about people who sometimes have presentiments of their own death, and if you believe some accounts, Michael went through a similar process, but this seems almost too good a fit. Too perfect. What the fans would expect.
- This is exactly the kind of shit Sony would pull, in all honesty. They are lying money-grubbing assholes looking for the next big check (for examples, witness the Steve Popovich case or http://www.sony-sucks.com just for starters). I'm starting to hear rumors that they padded out the film This is It with rehearsals of similar sequences to how they were planned to be in the "final concert" from previous tours, and considering the weight fluctuation of Michael from clip to clip in that film, sometimes very dramatically so, this author is inclined to believe it. If Sony was responsible for that, they wouldn't hesitate to pull in a sound-alike to finish a demo or an album.
Now, the reason the tracks are in doubt is the following: Apparently, Michael recorded these demos in New Jersey in 2007 at the home studio of close friend Frank Cascio, who (along with his kids) has been close to the Jackson family for years. Michael and his children were apparently staying with them at the time these demos were recorded. The kids are saying upon hearing the finished single that they overheard the music as it was being made and it doesn't sound like what they heard being tracked; Michael's daughter Paris is reportedly particularly adamant that it's not her daddy on this song. Michael's mother and sister have since come forward claiming they don't believe it's Michael on the track either.
I'm not one to doubt Michael's family. They have no reason to come forward and put the kibosh on this single or this album, because it means big money for them. Clearly if they are raising an objection, there must be something up. But I think it doesn't have anything to do with the music at all. More on that in a moment. First, let's discuss the reasons why the kids might be wrong.
REASONS THE KIDS MIGHT BE (INADVERTENTLY) WRONG:
- It was three years ago. Sheer passage of time plays tricks on the mind. The kids were all very young at that time, and no one knows how closely focused on the music their attention was. They only overheard it, and it's not like they've said how much detail they can recall. They could very easily be misremembering. Let's not forget that a lot has happened since that time that they've had to deal with that takes a lot more coping and space in the brain, including stuff as big as, oh I dunno, their dad's sudden death? I'm guessing there's room for doubt as to their ability to remember.
- They might not have been hearing the single as it is now. What the children heard in 2007 was probably unedited vocal tracks before additional instruments and sound effects were added to update them for their current release. Digital recordings can be easily altered and maybe the producers decided to radically rearrange the original vocal tracks to appeal to a wider audience. Unless someone has actually worked with music editing software and equipment, they really wouldn't understand the process. Michael's stuff from about the mid-Nineties on has actually been very heavily processed, and that's coming from the opinion of someone who is not so well trained, but recognizes digital bull when he hears it. It's obvious to anyone with ears really; just listen to all the programmed percussion and multi-tracked layers of vocals. It's a dead giveaway.
- To my ears (and I admit they aren't the most qualified) it sounds like Michael Jackson. Plain and simple. For all of the above objections in the other list, it does sound at the very least like an unfocused early draft of something that would be a great Michael Jackson track later. Let's not forget, if we buy the story behind where these tapes came from, he sort of cut the demos and then presumably forgot about them for a long time considering we're only hearing about them now (maybe he didn't forget about them, maybe there was an album in the pipeline; we'll never know because he's not here to ask). We don't know if these were his final plans, or a quick remix the label popped together. It could have been that it would have sounded very different had Michael lived. In fact, this ties in a little bit to the "posthumous single" objection above; it could seem fragmented because it might well have been fragments stitched together. He apparently left behind over a hundred unpublished songs, but no one's saying they were all finished.
- Why would the estate do it? I really don't believe the administrators of Michael Jackson's estate would risk damaging his legacy by intentionally releasing fake, unauthenticated recordings. Don't forget that this stuff came straight from the people who Michael's family trusts to handle his legacy. If there's any room for doubt now, it should have been there before, and those people should not be in control. Period.
- Why would the Cascios do it? Barring any news of a huge pay-off or something, the Cascios are Michael's long-time friends. All they would get for giving the estate these recordings, likely, is a lump sum. Pending knowledge of a bigger deal that I don't have, I don't think they would be entitled to bigger royalties or percentage points from the album. There would be absolutely nothing for them to gain from giving the estate fake songs.
- The voice experts say it's him. I know that Sony has a reputation for dishonesty. You can trust them about as far as you can throw them. But they were very quick to jump on this and bring in voice experts to authenticate the recordings. That means one of two things: either they already foresaw people claiming it was a hoax (presuming they are in the wrong), or more innocently, they are concerned about their market share and how it will be lessened by the press about how their experts fell for a Michael Jackson sound-alike presented to gullible greedy record execs by "family friends" exploiting the need for new material (presuming they are in the right). Whether one likes big business or not, these music professionals seem to be very astute about how the music business operates. They know the kind of bad press that would result, and they are hoping to avoid it. Unless someone provides proof that the voice print results were falsified or tampered with, one would have to face that this is in fact Michael Jackson's voice.
Now, as I said earlier, if the family are raising an objection, there must be something up. But I think it doesn't have anything to do with the music at all. What do I think was responsible for this? Well, let's start with the timing of the release of the "reasonable doubt" info to the press. Just before this leaked, Joe Jackson was denied any access to Michael's estate and any financial gain from this specific album, or any other posthumous project, by the court. I find it to be more than a coincidence that it wasn't even a day later when Roger Friedman wrote a column about this supposed impostor on the very same album, citing a "family source." Let's spell "family source" J-O-E, shall we?
Now, why the rest of the family would get involved in what appears to be a blackmail attempt to get Joe the money from Sony isn't very clear, especially considering Katherine's recent divorce from Joe after over 60 years of marriage. But it's worth noting that Joe tried the same thing before with a release of supposed information about the use of body doubles in the film This is It. (One wonders tangentially if this might be part of the reason why Sony cut Joe out in the first place, i.e., to avoid further shenanigans of this kind.) In this author's eyes at least, it's a better theory than Sony actually sinking to the level of hiring a Michael Jackson sound-alike, while not ruling out the notion that such action on Sony's part is totally plausible considering past actions.
In the end, anything's possible after all. In my opinion, the fans are the best ones to judge. They've bought his albums, singles, compilations, DVDs, concert tickets, for years on end. They know this guy, his voice, his compositional/performing style. And some of them are jumping to conclusions just because the family is saying something's not kosher, out of, and this is my admittedly uneducated opinion, a deep-seated sympathy for the kids and the family following his death. I'm not saying not to feel sorry for them, just to keep an open mind and wait till the full album comes out. If the family makes any more noise about certain faked tracks, then we'll know which ones are real, and in this age of iTunes and individual downloading, we can separate the wheat from the chaff. All I ask is that we as a group of fans and potential consumers refrain from throwing the whole album under the bus without waiting to see what results.