Saturday, October 24, 2009

Michael Jackson and the Money-Grabbing Compilation

Well the "This is It" movie is due to be released this week. I have to admit that I'm looking forward to seeing it, though I have no idea when I'll actually have a chance to. I should actually word it this way: the movie is the only thing either Sony or Universal have done since Michael Jackson's death that interests me.

On the other hand, there are plenty of CDs available. Given that Michael Jackson's peak era ended while CDs were still the dominant medium of music, and given that so many of his fans are people who more lor less stopped consuming music during that era and so naturally return to the format of the CD in order to honour Michael Jackson's legacy, and given the fact that CDs are still what wet the lips of record companies, it certainly makes sense that the material they'll be most keen to get out to the masses will be encoded on little shiny plastic discs (apparently This is It will even be available on vinyl).

But so far it's all been so awfully contrived...

So far, Universal's been worse than Sony. I will accept as coincidence the fact that they had a box set of his early years solo recordings available within days of his passing, but certainly The Stripped Mixes and The Remix Suite are grave-robbing cash-ins: useless product designed to suck some money off of those people so affected by Michael Jackson's death that they'll buy anything with his name on it. Since Universal is merely a huge faceless corporation with no links at all to either Barry Gordy or to the Jackson family, I guess this is to be expected: there's really no one there to say, "Hey, that's just exploitative".

But Sony? Well, I'd like to think they should know better. There has already been plenty of controversy over how genuine the new single "This is It" is: Paul Anka, Sa-Fire, brothers subsequently overdubbed... all of which obscures the fact that it is a decent song that is worth hearing but should have been released in a more honest way (i.e. not as an 'all-new' single). Still, it looks like the highlight of the This is It CD, which ties in with the movie by dint of both of them being by Michael Jackson... Apparently the deal is to take some of Michael Jackson's greatest hits that are featured in the movie, and then stick them on a CD in their original (already over-compiled) album versions, as opposed to in the versions that appear in the movie. Append that with two versions of "This is It" to make one CD. CD two consists of three demos of Michael Jackson classics plus him reading the liner notes of Dangerous out loud.

What that means is that CD 1 is really just yet another compilation, no better or worse than Number Ones, The Essential Michael Jackson, King of Pop, or HIStory disc one (which has the advantage of being compiled by Michael Jackson). It gets no more adventurous than "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)" (the only Jacksons song on the disc) or "Human Nature" (a song whose profile has been increased exponentially by the "This is It" project). Songs apparently featured in the film that might have made the disc slightly less generic include two relatively obscure tracks from Invincible (an album that could do with a higher profile), the title track from HIStory, and several Motown-era songs. Those were not included, however. Instead we get "This is It" (fine), in two different versions (fine), one of which is apparently orchestral (fine), and we get them presented back to back (ridiculous). Why not, for example, put one version on the end of disc two?

Ah yes, disc two. Three demos and a poem. The 'bait'. For those Michael Jackson fans who don't want just another crap compilation, instead they get just another crap compilation with a few scraps stuck on. I haven't heard the demos yet, so they might be revelatory. But even still, their real place is on the lavish reissues of the main Sony-era albums that in my head will one day see release once Sony stops trying to milk the golden cow.

In the meantime, this is what Michael Jackson fans get. I hope the liner notes are at least interesting.

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