CD Review: Michael Jackson, "Immortal"
Published: Monday, December 5, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, December 6, 2011 14:12
This early into the musical afterlife of Michael Jackson, it's hard to know how to react to something like Immortal. Should we be excited about an officially sanctioned DJ mix/score to the new Cirque du Soleil production of the same name, peppered with odd vocal interludes, weird New Age accents, crazy funk breakdowns and something called "The Mime Segment"? Or should we reserve our enthusiasm for whatever lies in the archive that's rarer and/or more revealing of our fallen superstar, no doubt waiting in the wings for the next prime-time opportunity?
More precisely: Whose interest is Immortal serving? Is the goal to expand Jackson as an artist, an estate, a brand or a visionary?
Big questions out of the way (and unaddressed), Immortal is a double-disc mix of Jackson's hits both as a solo artist and as a member of the Jacksons and the Jackson 5. (It's also available in a single-disc "highlights" version.) It was compiled and recontextualized by Kevin Antunes in much the same way that George Martin and Giles Martin reworked the Beatles' catalog for the Cirque production and soundtrack to "Love," the dance company's interpretation of the Liverpool band's oeuvre. Immortal is also, at its worst, way cheesier than "Love," filled with easy-listening strings, spoken-word interludes buried in spooky echo, and curious pacing.
But to call it a mixtape of Jackson's music isn't entirely accurate, because the soundtrack is beholden to the Cirque/"Immortal" story line and therefore sequenced not for the dance floor but for a Las Vegas-style production. As a result, a wildly inventive remix, such as what Antunes does for "Dancing Machine," barely gets going before grinding to a halt a few minutes in and we're stuck with a young Michael, surrounded by the sounds of wild animals in the jungle, singing a tribal version of "Ben." And the composition built around Jackson's vocal hook in Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me" serves little purpose as an audio-only experience other than to remind listeners that Michael made some serious artistic missteps in his life.
But aside from a few weird choices, none of this is Antune's fault. After all, who'd want to fiddle with "Human Nature," "Beat It" or "Billie Jean," some of the most popular songs of the last half-century? That he mostly pulls it off is a testament to his abilities as a sound designer, though it's not rich enough to make this essential listening. For that, there's Thriller and Off the Wall.