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First listen: Michael Jackson's new album

By Greg Cochrane
Newsbeat music reporter

image copyrightReuters
image captionThe new MJ album features collaborations with Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl and 50 Cent

"Disrespectful", "keeping his legacy alive", "fake" vocals?

Michael Jackson's first album of new material since his death has arrived amidst a storm of controversy.

Michael is released on 13 December.

It's the first album of "new" Michael Jackson material in nearly a decade.

The run-up to the release has seen major controversy with other artists, record companies and Jackson's own family wading into an argument about whether the album is legitimate or in good taste.

Black Eyed Peas' branded the release "disrespectful" earlier this year.

But Akon, who features on the album's opening track Hold My Hand, hit back, claiming the body of work would be "keeping Michael Jackson's legacy alive".

'Scientifically tested'

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe album, Michael, is released on 13 December

Then came the questions raised over Jackson's vocals. His nephews, TJ and Taryll Jackson, complained on Twitter about the track Breaking News. They said it sounded "fake" and "shady".

But record company Sony, who are releasing the album in conjunction with the Jackson estate, said they had "complete confidence" the singing was his own, arguing that it was scientifically tested.

Michael Jackson has written the credits on all of the album's 10 tracks. Significantly though and Lady Gaga's producer RedOne's tracks don't feature.

What this isn't, is a new Michael Jackson album, but a jigsaw collection of previously unheard material.

The tracks have predominantly been written in the last five years, in various locations like New Jersey, Las Vegas and London.

But final track Much Too Soon was written almost 30 years ago, during the Thriller sessions in the early 80s.

Modern flavour

It's oddly prophetic in the context of this album and MJ's death, featuring the lyric "I guess I learned my lesson much too soon".

But even though it's been unheard, the collaborations included on the album do help to give this a distinctive, modern flavour.

50 Cent raps a verse and Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl plays drums on Monster.

Jackson's track with Lenny Kravitz, leaked online at the start of 2010, (I Can't Make It) Another Day, also appears.

The press release given to journalists at the album playback is honest in describing the source material for the album as "creative blueprints" and "foundations".

In other words the songs were incomplete.

A team of producers including Teddy Riley, Eddie Cascio and Theron 'Neff-U' Feemster helped turn them into fully formed tracks.

The result, somewhat predictably, is not a cohesive body of work. It does sound like tracks have been picked from various points within his distinguished career.

Hollywood Tonight, written during MJ's Invincible sessions - his last studio album in 2001 - recalls powerful, driving pop tracks like his 1995 collaboration with sister Janet, Scream.

Keep Your Head Up, one of a handful of ballads on the album, includes some sombre guitar-picking and a huge key change complete with choir. It sounds more like Earth Song than any of his previous work.

However, Best Of Joy, again a slower number, which Jackson reported was working on during the build-up to his run of concerts at London's O2, sounds incomplete and repetitive.

Beyond the individual tracks already premiered online (Breaking News, Hold My Hand and Another Day) Behind The Mask features a meandering saxophone opening and an approved sample of Japanese band Yellow Magic Orchestra.

With a disco beat it's the track which sounds most like The Jackson Five, with slap-funk bass and sultry vocals.

It also features vocodered vocals in the chorus.

Much Too Soon, a downbeat, reflective and, arguably, the most personal song on the album, draws the LP to a close.

"Take away this never ending sorrow/take away this lonely feeling from my soul," croons MJ.

What this album doesn't do is give fans an indication of what Jackson wanted to do with the new material he was writing, or leave clues as to his state of mind in his last few years.

However, avid Michael supporters, of which there are millions worldwide, will still be hungry to own a previously unheard piece of one of the world's greatest pop stars.

'Michael' is released in the UK December 13th.

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