One of the biggest releases of 2014 is on the way in the form of Michael Jackson's Xscape; however there is a serious whiff of bullshit around the whole thing that is worth talking about. Whether it is Sony's syndication of the material, whether anyone was ever meant to hear this 'new' material, Jackson's relationship with the label or the never ending cash grabbing associated with him - it's clear that the whole thing is just another way of exploiting a dead man.
Let's be clear here before we get started, Xscape is no doubt going to sell like hot cakes, expecially with reviews that have warmed to the reinvigorated production courtesy of Timbaland. Fans will snap it up in seconds, eager to get their hands on any tiny piece of Jackson, nevermind the fact that like previously release This Is It, it's pieced together like a Frankenstein from unwanted bits and bobs. These songs were meant to remain on the shelf, as noted by The Guardian's Michael Cragg, who at an early listening party noted the bassline between an unnamed track and 'The Way You Make Me Feel' are the same. This is a clear indication that the song being listened to was an unfinished step to the famous track, from which sections were lifted. We were never meant to hear it, it is little more than a step on the road of songwriting, something any musician will tell you is very private. It's the equivalent of stripping the chicken after a roast and eating all the bits you were told not to, even the bones.
Then of course there is the close association with Sony's brand of Xperia phones. Now do you see the similarities? Xscape? Xperia? It reeks of rooms of marketing executives jerking off to words like 'synergy' or 'blue sky marketing' and it bled right into the listening party The Guardian journalist attended. All attendees were treated to a "crass" advert for the new Sony mobile before the MD of Sony UK stated that the album would be played through the phone (that comes pre-loaded with the album), in order to show off its superior sound quality. All this for a group of music (not tech) journalists who had just had their mobiles confiscated to prevent leakage (isn't that ironic).
Happier times for the King of Pop
Now we happen upon the logistics of Jackson's relationship with Sony, which towards the end of his career in music was increasingly strained. It broke down in 2001 around the release of Invincible, when Jackson was unable to obtain the masters to his original albums, despite believing his originally contract allowed him to. Due to the fact the lawyer who represented him when making the deal also (secretly) represented Sony, clauses prevented him from laying his hands on them. This was later ruled as a conflict of interest, but nevertheless the damage was already done. What it shows is that he wanted control of his music and that the last people on earth he would like to have their hands on it would be Sony.
In 2002 Jackson spoke out against the label in London after they refused to promote Invincible following the dispute:
"Let me just say this… The tradition of great performers… the tradition of great performers from — I really want you to know what I say! — from Sammy Davis Junior, to James Brown, to Jackie Wilson, to Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly. The story is usually the same though. These guys worked really hard at their craft, for the story ends the same. They are usually broken, torn and usually just sad, because the companies take advantage of them, they really do. And… Sony…Sony… Being the artist that I am, at Sony I’ve generated several billion dollars for Sony, several billon."
So think for just a second about the money grabbing exploitation that is going on here. This is a man that in many ways was driven to his grave by the people that forever wanted a piece of him. Be it AEG.'s touring schedule or Sony's money grabbing, it never seems to end. The corpse is being picked clean and it makes me feel a bit sick.
Watch Michael Jackson discuss Sony below