Michael Jackson, ‘Michael’ (Epic)
The success of This Is It was that it gave fans a rare glimpse of the candid, still startlingly talented man behind the billion-dollar machine. This far less satisfying collection of gussied-up outtakes and posthumously completed tracks shifts the focus back to the packaging that progressively dehumanized Jackson. The vocal processing on “Best of Joy” overwhelms the ballad’s modest pleasures, and 50 Cent’s cameo on “Monster” detracts from what’s otherwise the strongest of several pained meditations on fame. The final cuts nearly meet Jackson’s lofty mid-career standards: Not even corny crowd cheers can blunt “Behind the Mask,” a raging rewrite of a pioneering techno track by Japan’s Yellow Magic Orchestra, while the elegiac love song “Much Too Soon” delivers refreshingly simple bittersweetness. Both were first intended for Thriller, and although their reconfigured arrangements lack Quincy Jones’ sophistication, the synergy between that master producer and his greatest pupil survives.