Michael Jackson - Immortal (2011)

Michael Jackson
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I know what you’re thinking.   I can literally see your eyes roll and hear a sigh of exasperation at the thought of yet another Michael Jackson release and another review of its quality and worthiness. I'm not exactly psychic, but as a lifelong fan, I feel you: I mean, what else is left for us to hear? How many more times can the same songs be re-configured, re-imagined and re-packaged to the still-reeling and still-grieving fan base? So, imagine how surprised I was to discover that the new Immortal CD, which is actually the soundtrack to a tribute-paying stage production by Cirque Du Soleil, is actually worth the effort and expense, even to a full-catalog-owning MJ devotee like myself.

I know what you’re thinking.   I can literally see your eyes roll and hear a sigh of exasperation at the thought of yet another Michael Jackson release and another review of its quality and worthiness. I'm not exactly psychic, but as a lifelong fan, I feel you: I mean, what else is left for us to hear? How many more times can the same songs be re-configured, re-imagined and re-packaged to the still-reeling and still-grieving fan base? So, imagine how surprised I was to discover that the new Immortal CD, which is actually the soundtrack to a tribute-paying stage production by Cirque Du Soleil, is actually worth the effort and expense, even to a full-catalog-owning MJ devotee like myself.

Ever since his unexpected and untimely death in 2009, Michael Jackson’s personal eccentricities and musical legacy have been frequently expounded on (some would even say ‘exploited’); but this time, instead of mass-producing a hastily-thrown-together mix of tunes, music designer Kevin Antunes went the extra mile, spending over a year with his master recordings to give the familiar hits a bit of newness or nuance. “The Immortal Intro” is the first hint of this collection’s fresh approach, threading together multiple lyrics (“Remember the Time,” “I’ll Be There,” “Bad,” etc.), changing the tempos and underscoring his spoken words with percussion, hints of Auto Tune and vinyl scratch. “Childhood” begins with an actual snippet of a speech from the reticent performer (“The magic, the wonder, the mystery and the innocence of a child’s heart are the seeds of creativity that will heal the world, I really believe that”), and “Dancing Machine/Blame It On The Boogie” adds intriguing techno edges and toggles the tracks back and forth in a sort of danceable duel. “Speechless/Human Nature” strips nearly its entire percussive undercurrent and lays bare the brilliance and beauty of his vocals, while “Jam” retains its original ferociousness (but becomes unintentionally poignant since it opens with the words of another recently-departed performer, Heavy D).

One of the most priceless tracks is “Planet Earth/Earth Song,” where Jackson reads a verse from a poem by the same name (published as part of his 1992 book of reflections, Dancing The Dream) before an capella demo verse----“although I know, we’ve drifted far”---- choked with emotion, is flung into the swelling chorus and explodes. 

As essential as some of the new versions are----hearing MJ and Siedah Garrett sing “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” adoringly in Spanish, the tear-inducing tenderness that a pre-pubescent squeezed out of “I’ll Be There,” “State of Shock” and “Bad,” intertwined in the “Beat it/State of Shock” mix with a crisper Eddie Van Halen guitar solo, for example----some of them are, minus a couple of tweaks, practically note-for-note with the originals and could’ve been left off entirely (e.g., “Man In the Mirror,” “Working Day And Night”). Like many of the other releases that have surfaced since Michael Jackson’s passing, Immortal may not convert non-fans (if there IS such a thing), but those who miss his unique brand of magic can put aside that cynicism in the case of Immortal, since it is lovingly-crafted, crisply-produced and turns many of the classics from familiar to fascinating.  Highly Recommended.

By Melody Charles

 
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