Xscape

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July 02, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

After King Tut’s death, the world waited more than 3,000 years to see the hidden glories of his tomb. By the time Michael Jackson — that god-king of pop, ShaMone!-Ra — passed away in 2009, we didn’t have to be quite as patient. It took just 13 months for his label to unveil 2010’s Michael, studded with the shiniest jewels in Jackson’s trove: near-complete tracks that may (or may not) have been intended for his next album. Now, nearly five years into our post-MJ era, fans get another bag of loot in the form of Xscape, a collection of eight songs that mix Jackson’s unreleased vocal tracks with of-the-moment production by the likes of Timbaland and Rodney Jerkins.

Before you start moonwalking away, know this: Nobody’s making MJ go dubstep. In fact, Xscape‘s greatest accomplishment is that these do sound like MJ songs — for better or worse. The anxious, sequin-gloved funk of the title track feels fresher than anything on his last official album, 2001’s Invincible. There’s no undiscovered masterpiece here, but it isn’t a colorized-Casablanca-level travesty, either (though the pop PSA ”Do You Know Where Your Children Are” could win an earnest-off against 1992’s ”Heal the World”). The most startling part is what’s going on above the ”modernized” beats. Jackson’s voice, high and clear in the mix, ages decades in 40-odd minutes, his ’80s falsetto giving way to a surprisingly dark late-’90s baritone. It’s a range he rarely showed off, but more important, it’s a reminder that MJ’s greatest treasure — his constant artistic evolution — is one he took with him to the afterlife. B

Best Tracks:
”XSCAPE”
”A silky seducer”

Xscape

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MJJ
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Xscape

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