It's inevitable, really, that an aura of sadness envelops what will be the first of many posthumous albums from Michael Jackson. The fussy cover art, the light running time (10 tracks at 40 minutes), the dressed-up vocals — it's all a reminder of his unexpected death.
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Most of the songs have a bare-bones feel, with slick production from Teddy Riley working hard to replace the lack of finished vocals. Several of them are good, but none of it feels essential.
The Akon-assisted Hold My Hand and Keep Your Head Up are uplifting ballads. Hollywood Tonight, with its groove about a girl "in her painted-on jeans;" and teaser single Breaking News, a rail against the media, play like early '90s Jackson jams, complete with shrieks and grunts. That's not a bad thing.
Much Too Soon, written during the Thriller era, was a song Jackson reportedly loved but never found the proper home for on later albums. Its strength is his delicate vocal delivery, which should have been pushed up front instead of being drowned in instrumentation.
And that's the real problem. Despite so much accessorizing, Michael often feels incomplete. But it's a testament to Jackson's gifts, not studio trickery, that it proves an intriguing listen.
Joey Guerra, Houston Chronicle