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 The King's Posthumous Pop

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Would Michael have done anything differently
himself -- or even wanted us to hear this at all?

by Leah Greenblatt in Entertainment Weekly

Michael Jackson
POP (Epic)

Michael Jacksonhatever creative evolution Michael Jackson intended for himself in middle age, we will never really know; his legacy now falls to executors who control his vast musical estate. One can understand, though, why the superstar went quiet after releasing his last album of new material, 2001's respectable if ultimately underwhelming Invincible. A famously relentless perfectionist in the studio, he kept his post-Invincible recording sessions under wraps while peers like Prince and Madonna remained relatively prolific.

But death, as late icons from Johnny Cash to Tupac Shakur have shown us, can be a great motivator -- at least for the beneficiaries left behind. Even before Jackson went on to become by far the best-selling artist of 2009, the posthumous product rush seemed inevitable. Now, in addition to the MJ-themed videogame, docu-film, and Cirque du Soleil extravaganza, his estate has promised seven more releases over the next seven years.

Michael Jackson - MichaelThe material on MICHAEL is not by any means a deep dive into the Jackson archives; nearly all the songs are culled from the last five years of his life. Opener and first single "Hold My Hand" supples the broad, pleasing fervor of an official theme song for a World Cup or Summer Olympics -- an ideal repository for soaring choruses and generic lyrical uplift. "Hollywood Tonight," from 2007, feels leaner and more urgent, crackling with Jackson's trademark percussive shuffle and pop. The gospel-tinged bromide "Keep Your Head Up" offers a well-intentioned but somewhat soggy lead-in to the feathery, sweet-toned swoon of "(I Like) The Way You Love Me." Window-smashing theatrics juxtapose with airy, danceable coos and a rat-a-tat 50 Cent guest spot on "Monster" (the beast in question, it turns out, is fame).

"Breaking News" delivers Jackson's now-requisite anti-tabloid screed, albeit with satisfyingly melodic gall, while "(I Can't Make It) Another Day," featuring Lenny Kravitz and Dave Grohl, galvanizes him further, yielding the album's most genuinely fierce moment. The propulsive synths and vocodered trills on the otherwise intriguing "Behind the Mask" seem oddly dated by sax flourishes -- though perhaps that makes it a good companion to the lilting closer "Much Too Soon," an actual relic of the early '80s (the track dates back to his Thriller days).

As musical epitaphs go, MICHAEL is a solid album, arguably stronger than Invincible and certainly no great affront to his name. But it can be hard to listen and not wonder what he would have done differently -- or if he would have wanted us to hear it at all. B  

We asked two of Jackson's collaborators, Akon and Teddy Riley, to share memories of recording the songs that ended up on his new album. - SIMON VOZICK-LEVINSON

Akon became friendly with Jackson after remaking "Wanna Be Startin' Something" for a 2008 Thriller rerelease. Around that time, he played an early version of "Hold My Hand" for the King of Pop in Vegas. "He fell in love with the record, and we went into the studio and rerecorded it," says Akon. "When it was done, we were excited and ready to go with it."

Jackson wanted to release "Hold My Hand" to coincide with the July 2009 kickoff of his 50-date This Is It concert series at London's O2 arena. After his unexpected death just weeks before the first show, the track was put aside until this year, when Jackson's label and estate decided to include it on Michael. "I was so excited that we finally would get a chance to put it out, because I know how he felt about that record," Akon says. "But it's a bittersweet victory. I would love for him to have been here."

Early this September, the estate asked producer Teddy Riley to listen to several unreleased Jackson demos. "The songs were unfinished," says Riley, who worked closely with Jackson on 1991's Dangerous. "It wasn't where Michael would expect it to be if he was here. It was not an easy job." He spent the next three months adding new drums, keyboards, bass, and strings to Jackson's recorded vocals.

Working on Jackson's music without the exacting artist present unnerved Riley at first. "It was very emotional," he says. He felt better after decorating his L.A. studio with photos of the singer. "His aura was in the room," he says. "I started imagining voices from him, saying, 'I would do this. If you can add this to the track, it would be slamming,' That's how I got through it."

 Charlie's Angels Take Flight (Again)

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The classic '70s distaff detective series is ready for a reboot.

by Jeff Jensen in Entertainment Weekly

Charlie's Angelsemo to Dexter and CSI: Miami crew: South Beach is about to get a prettier class of crime fighters. ABC has greenlit a pilot for a next-gen revamp of Charlie's Angels, developed by Al Gough and Miles Millar (Smallville; the 2011 film I Am Number Four). "It's about three smart, capable women who not only save the day but also have each other's backs," says Gough. "And you have to deal with your boss via speakerphone! The appeal is timeless."

ABC and Sony -- which owns the Charlie's Angels property -- have been working for several years with Drew Barrymore (who produced and starred with Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu in two blockbuster Angels films) to bring the franchise back to TV. Producers like Carlton Cuse (Lost) and Josh Friedman (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) have been attached to previous efforts that never went to pilot. Casting is under way for the Gough/Millar version, which will be set in present-day Miami instead of Los Angeles ("Sun and surf are in the Charlie's Angels DNA," says Gough) and will eschew a campy or retro approach. "The characters are real and emotionally grounded, but they still like to have fun, wear great clothes, solve crime, and kick some serious ass."

Cynics may roll their eyes at yet another Hollywood reboot (hello, Hawaii Five-O), but Gough wants viewers to give the show a chance. "We realize that we have a big target on our backs," he says, "but we hope to surprise."  

Leonard GoldbergThe return of a Hollywood hitmaker
If ageism exists in television, no one's told prolific producer Leonard Goldberg, who at 76 is responsible for bringing Blue Bloods to CBS and rebooting Charlie's Angels for ABC next fall. The TV vet who also put classics like Fantasy Island, Starsky and Hutch, S*W*A*T, and Hart to Hart on the small screen isn't worried that remake fatigue could threaten his new version of Angels, which he first produced from 1976 to 1981. "You have to respect the past, but you have to give the audiences something new," says Goldberg, who's narrowed down his search for the next Kelly, Kris, and Sabrina to 60 women. Of the pilot written by Smallville's Al Gough and Miles Millar, he vows, "This is not going to be your father's Charlie's Angels." If there's anything troubling Goldberg these days, it's that he didn't make enough hit shows in the '70s and '80s that could be updated for today. "I was kidding with a friend that I'd better get out my old development list. Since they've gone through all my series, maybe there's an idea that didn't go to air that they'll want."  - Lynette Rice

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