Michael Jackson has been more prolific in death than he usually was while alive. For his second posthumous studio LP, weighing in at an ungenerous eight songs, Timbaland and Jerome Harmon lead a team of producers who’ve added bulk and even dubstep eruptions to Jackson’s unfinished tracks, originally laid down between 1983 and 2002.
“Loving You” (recorded during sessions for 1987’s Bad) follows the wonderful, breezy legacy of “Rock With You” and “The Way You Make Me Feel.” But it’s an exception: Most of these songs rot and sway with fear. In “Chicago,” Jackson rails at a harlot who seduced him, despite being married with kids. The Dangerous outtake “Slave to the Rhythm” details an ugly marriage, and the EDM surges of the astounding, audacious “Do You Know Where Your Children Are” chronicle the grim fate of a preteen girl who runs from an abusive stepdad. Even with such dark subject matter, though, it’s a joy to hear the joy in Jackson’s voice.
Female sexual predators and the abuse of children were frequent Jackson themes. So was his sense of martyrdom. In “Xscape,” he uses his array of percussive gasps and clucks to describe how TV cameras (and, inevitably, a greedy woman) plague his life. In the second chorus, he slips in a chilling ad-lib that’s easy to overlook: “I’m dying.”