This is not a Michael Jackson album. Jackson was one of pop's biggest fussbudgets: Even when his songs were half-baked, the production was pristine. He would not have released anything like this compilation, a grab bag of outtakes and outlines assembled by Jackson's label. And yet, it's a testament to the man's charisma that Michael can be compelling. Jackson gets songwriting credit on eight of 10 tracks, and they are recognizably Michael Jackson songs. "Behind the Mask" is a fiercely funky cousin to "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' "; the Lenny Kravitz-produced "(I Can't Make It) Another Day" is a "Dirty Diana"-esque dance-rock song that also features Kravitz on guitar. There are thrilling glimpses into MJ's creative process — check the snippet of him singing and beatboxing his idea for "(I Like) The Way You Love Me" — but Michael's most amazing moment is the Thriller-era ballad "Much Too Soon." The song is full of guitars and strings, but all you really hear is that voice — hovering between child and adult, between male and female, between mournful and ecstatic.
From The Archives Issue 1120: December 23, 2010