Last week, the 4th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s untimely passing was marked via 2 exclusive iTunes releases touted as triumphant collections honoring his legacy and providing fans with exciting inclusions. Needless to say, I was stoked. I have been a life-long MJ fan, so the idea of getting my hands on some juicy rarities in one shot was pretty overwhelming, regardless of the fact that I wouldn’t be given the much preferred physical CD/vinyl option. The first collection is aptly, yet comically titled The Indispensable Collection. What is it? Just MJ’s 7 “adult” studio albums (including Blood On The Dance Floor/HIStory In The Mix) and his one solo live album, recorded at Wembley Stadium during his Bad Tour, which was released just last year. So, the short of it is, anybody who can remotely call themselves a Michael jackson fan already has everything here. Clearly this is just a one stop shop for those who need to make up for lack of Michael on their iPod in a hurry.
Regardless, as an actual fan, I was far more intrigued by the second release, The Ultimate Fan Extras Collection. I mean, doesn’t the name just say it all?! The description includes the words “demos,” “rarities,” “remixes,” and so on. This sounds just like a dream release to me! Then I saw the price listed at a whopping $80, which only made my excitement mount even further. Just think about how much music that would have to include! I was ready to bring out my credit card on that concept alone. So then I got on the computer, excited as could be, when I read through the tracklist. Song after song, track after track, I just managed to get angrier and angrier. I have never seen a more embarrassing collection compiled in my life, almost to the point where I feel like they are slapping fans across the face. There are far too many gripes to even begin to mention, but I’ve narrowed down my biggest ones.
01. The collection includes all of the bonus material from all previous album re-issues. Not only are all of the bonus tracks from the 2001 re-releases of Off The Wall, Thriller, and Bad included (Dangerous had no bonus material,) but all of the remixes and extras from Thriller 25 and Bad 25 are included, as well. Basically between all of the physical and digital incarnations, all of this material has been released as is easily accessible.
02. There are far too many tracks everybody already has a hundred times. Ok, it’s one thing to re-hash bonus material, but it’s another to give us the same songs everyone already has… i.e. the hit singles. Most of the tracks that are labeled as “Single Versions” or “Radio Edit” (namely “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “She’s Out Of My Life,” and “Smooth Criminal”) are just the album versions. Of course, there are some actual edits included (“Off The Wall,” “Rock With You,” “In The Closet,” “Earth Song,” and, excitingly, “Liberian Girl,”) but there is a lack of actual single mixes. Even the edit of “Off The Wall” that’s included is just an edit of the album version, not the single remix. There are dozens of proper single versions that have never made it off vinyl that fans would love to have digital versions of. Instead, we just have the tracks that have saturated compilation after compilation (after compilation after compilation.)
03. It includes other releases IN FULL. Yep, the Immortal soundtrack, and the embarrassment that was Michael are included here. As if “Ultimate fans” wouldn’t already own them…
04. The collection obviously, and admittedly just takes from other releases. So the collection basically looks like this: Bonus material from Off The Wall that fans already have, bonus material from Thriller that fans already have, bonus material from Bad that fans already have, a random sampling from The Ultimate Collection box set that fans already have, all of the bonus material from This Is It that fans already have, Michael in full, which fans already have, Immortal in full, which fans already have, and a hoard of “Remixes, Rarities, & Gems,” most of which makes up the bonus material from his series of Visionary singles. Hmm…
05. The tracklist is beyond haphazard. It’d be one thing if it was at least ORGANIZED. If it was at least a proper, chronological compilation, it’d at least read like something new. Instead we see “Smooth Criminal” grouped randomly in with the This Is It tracks, and “You Rock My World” grouped in with the Ultimate Collection tracks. This is supposed to be a Michael Jackson collection, yet there are Jacksons songs sprinkled all over the place. Because they made no effort to hide the fact that they just re-hased previous releases, the grouping is a mess. When you get down to the last portion, “Remixes, Rarities, & Gems” which includes the only material bordering on “exciting,” it’s a complete and utter mess. First of all, why does the Jacksons’ single “Can You Feel It?” need to it kick off, especially when it should have been grouped with the Ultimate Collection like the other Jacksons’ tracks; it throws off what appears to be an attempt to keep at least this portion chronological. Then you have live versions of all the Michael Jackson solo tracks performed with the Jacksons’, lifted straight from The Jacksons Live album, but with “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” separated from the pack. It’s really all just a mess.
06. The selection of tracks for the final portion is embarrassing. So the last section (“Remixes, Rarities, & Gems”) is really the only draw for actual fans here. It’s probably a fair assumption that not everyone is an avid collector that would have bought his singles along the way and such. Most of what the collection includes are remixes, which is fine, but the selection is a bit confusing. As perviously stated, if you take out all of the mixes included on the Visionary singles, there isn’t too much left over. There are tons of instrumentals here, which is cool, but they shouldn’t saturate the collection (who really cares about them?,) and there is an extreme over-abundance of “One More Chance” remixes, which if you purchased the CD single, you already own. There are some good inclusions, though. Some of the mixes aren’t super easy to access, and if you don’t own the UK deluxe edition of his King Of Pop compilation, then some of the edits, mixes, and rarities aren’t all that easy to find (but if you do, this collection is an extreme waste.)
The way this was compiled has crossed the line of “shameful” over to “shameless.” The only people who would be interested in this aren’t the actual fans, because they have started purchasing this collection over a decade ago, when the puzzle pieces started coming out individually. Who on earth is going to pay $80 for this, then? Because real fans won’t, as they already have the material, and I find it hard to believe that psuedo-fans would dish out that kind of money. Ok, so then what should this collection have included? Well if I were going to compile something that could actually be titled “The Ultimate Fans Extras Collection,” it would have looked very different. First of all, it wouldn’t be a rehash of anything. Of course there would be some overlap, that’s just unavoidable, but it would have been a fresh collection. It should have included:
1) All PROPER single versions – Not fake edits that were made to fill The Essential Michael Jackson, but the actual single versions and edits, many of which have never made it off vinyl or CD.
2) Original album mixes – The original album version of “Rock With You” should have been a no-brainer inclusion, but it’s notably absent in favor of the radio edit everyone has. However, I would have been sure to include the original album versions of “Bad,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” (which shockingly is included,) “Dirty Diana,” and “Smooth Criminal” from the Bad album. New versions/edits replaced original mixes on later vinyl pressings and on all CD versions and subsequent releases. Somehow, Bad 25 missed the boat on this, but I wouldn’t have passed it up for this collection.
3) A focus on his entire adult solo career – This release is so heavily focused on Thriller and Bad, it’s far too much. Granted, there wasn’t a whole lot of material from Off The Wall, but what about Dangerous onwards?! The only attention Dangerous receives is through a handful of remixes and instrumentals, and not even a fair amount of them. HIStory and Blood On The Dance Floor see even less focus, and Invincible has almost entirely been written out of his legacy. I understand that these albums weren’t his biggest (sans Dangerous, which actually is just behind Thriller,) but they were a part of his career, and there is plenty of material to focus on them with.
4) No Jacksons material – C’mon now. This isn’t a Jacksons collection, it’s a MICHAEL Jackson collection. Yes, he was a part of the group, but that material sticks out like a sore thumb. I would ditch all of it, except for the live tracks, which, although they’re not rare, I do like the idea of including (but I would have grouped them all together.)
5) Exciting versions of the songs – How about some video mixes?! Most of his singles received awesome makeovers for his iconic short films, yet none of them have seen the light of day! How about the extended “Smooth Criminal” with the complete second verse, or “Remember The Time” with the awesome dance break, or “Thriller” reorganized to feature the legendary zombie sequence, or even “They Don’t Care About Us” with the extra percussion? I would have even gone so far as to include the performance mix of “Dangerous” that became a concert staple for him in the mid-90s onward. Fans would love to have all of these things far more than what was included here.
6) Umm..let’s see…actual unreleased material – Anything would be better than this. All of the demos here are previously released (some of them multiple times,) all of the mixes can be found elsewhere, and pretty much everything else is lifted directly (and openly) from another release. How about some things no one has! I’d like to think they’re just saving them for something big and exciting, but let’s look at this realistically…
So there you have it. Don’t waste your money on The Ultimate Fan Extras Collection. If you don’t already own this material, please take the time to buy the other releases individually. You’ll get far more out of his career that way.