Xscape: A track-by-track review

Michael Jackson recorded a large number of songs for each of his albums throughout his scandal-tinged career. The majority of the songs never saw the light of day during his life, except for the occasional leak via the Internet. This meant that he amassed a large archive of unreleased music. It was from this archive that a number of music producers plucked songs from, in order to put together Jackson’s first posthumous album, Michael (released in 2010).

The songs that are on Michael were heavily edited, and a few of them caused controversy for being modified to the point where the vocals did not sound like Jackson.

But Jackson’s second posthumous album, Xscape (released in 2014), is far better than Michael.

The production of Xscape was carried out in exactly the same way as Michael. Unreleased songs were picked from Jackson’s archive by the chairman and CEO of Epic Records, L.A. Reid. Reid then handed them over to a number of producers, including Timbaland and Rodney Jerkins, who were tasked with bringing them up-to-date through editing so that they would appeal to audiences today. This time, they managed to get it right.

        Xscape’s eight songs sound so fresh and pristine that you’d think that they’d only been recorded recently. There’s also no doubt that the vocals are Jackson’s. The producers and sound engineers clearly worked hard not to repeat the same mistakes that were made on Michael.

        In some cases, the rejuvenated songs on Xscape actually sound better than the originals, a few of which only existed in demo form.

        Jackson’s fans, as well as music buffs in general, are given a rare treat: a Deluxe edition of Xscape has been released alongside the Standard edition. The Deluxe edition features the original versions of the songs alongside the revamped ones, allowing fans and music buffs to compare and analyse exactly how much the songs have changed through the editing process.

        This review of Xscape is going to do just that: compare and analyse the original and revamped versions of each song in order to distinguish the changes that have occurred during the editing process.

  1.    Love Never Felt So Good.

The original and revamped versions of “Love Never Felt So Good” are both incredibly simple. It’s a song about the positive feeling that love creates.

The original version only has vocals by Jackson, a piano playing the main score, and a few finger-clicks and hand-claps.

The new version of the song retains the original’s simplistic music, but now features newly-recorded vocals from Justin Timberlake, thus making it a duet.

Despite being simple, both versions of the song work rather well. They sound complete within themselves, and there is absolutely no sense that there’s anything lacking from one either of them.

  1.    Chicago.

“Chicago” is about a man who has an affair with a married woman.

The original version of the song sounds rather like a demo, and has a very ‘90s feel to it. This is because it was recorded in the late-1990s, which was when Jackson began recording songs for Invincible, his 2001 album. But the song never went beyond a demo.

        The new version of “Chicago” sounds much more contemporary. It still has the same score, but producers Timbaland and J-Roc have made a few changes, such as speeding up the delivery of the Jackson’s vocals in the chorus.

Speaking of vocals, Jackson’s singing in this song is outstanding, even in the original. It’s clear that Timbaland and J-Roc didn’t want to tamper too much with the vocals (except for speeding up the delivery), instead opting to make them the highlight of the song. They even made the drums and keyboards drop out at three minutes and eighteen seconds into the song to let the vocals play out by themselves.

  1.    Loving You.

“Loving You” is a simple song about love. It was recorded in the 1980s during sessions for Jackson’s 1987 album Bad, but it didn’t make the final track list.

        The original version is, to put it bluntly, terrible. While the vocals are spot-on, the music ruins it. It sounds like it was composed and played by an amateur: the keyboards (which were recorded with a reverberating effect for the song’s intro) just do not sound right, and there is a brief saxophone solo that is poorly performed.

        The new version is far superior to the original. The terrible score has been replaced with an entirely new one, which is only vaguely reminiscent of the original.

  1.    A Place with No Name.

“A Place with No Name” resembles the American (the rock band) song “A Horse with No Name”.

The original version is not a demo, but it gives the impression that it was put together in a rush. It sounds like a few tweaks should have been made when it was first recorded.

        The new version sounds more complete. It sounds similar to “Remember the Time”, a song on Jackson’s 1991 album Dangerous.

  1.    Slave to the Rhythm.

This song, which tells the story of a woman who is stuck dancing for various men in her life, was recorded for Dangerous, but it didn’t make the finished product. Jackson never returned to it during his life.

        The original version is much like most of the other original songs on Xscape in that it sounds like a demo.

        In the new version, Timbaland and J-Roc added a mesh of keyboards and drums, which strengthens the song and captures the exasperating pace the lyrics refer to.

  1.    Do You Know Where Your Children Are.

“Do You Know Where Your Children Are” is about a girl who runs away to Los Angeles after being sexually abused by her stepfather. It is one in a number of Jackson’s songs that has victimisation as a theme. He often wrote songs about victimisation since he was first accused of child molestation in the early-1990s.

The original version of the song was recorded for Bad, but it didn’t get onto the final track list. Jackson returned to it for Dangerous, but once again it wasn’t included.

The revamped version of the song sounds really similar to the original. It seems that the producers and sound engineers didn’t want to change it too much. They only made a few changes during the editing process, which included adding an electronic keyboard riff. The most notable difference between the two is that the new version has a completely new intro.

  1.    Blue Gangsta.

“Blue Gangsta” is about a man whose wife has been cheating on him.

It is obvious that the original version of this song was a demo. It sounds unfinished to the point where it lacks the crispness of a completed song. It is clearly a rough draft of a song. It has great vocals though, like “Chicago” does.

I think the new version is the best song on Xscape. It’s clear that the producers and engineers wanted to preserve the vocals from the original. They introduced trap drums and a synth-bass part to the song, but they peel these back towards the end so that a chorus of backing vocals sung by Jackson come to the forefront. The music takes a backseat in this song, therefore not overwhelming the vocals.

  1.    Xscape.

“Xscape” is about someone wanting to escape from bad relationships, and everything that holds them back from doing so.

The original version of the song has an aggressive rhythm that was also angular, which Jackson favoured since working on Thriller (released in 1982). The beginning of the original is also reminiscent of the intro of his song “2 Bad”, which appeared on his 1995 album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I.

        In the new version, the song has been changed to the point where only the vocals remain unaltered. The aggressive and angular rhythm has been replaced with a more softer one. The music, though, drowns out the vocals in the chorus.



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