It’s certainly reasonable to feel a bit skeptical about the release of “new” Michael Jackson material. All of the posthumous music released to date has been majorly disappointing, particularly the Michael album, which many fans maintain isn’t entirely authentic. It’s not that the tracks themselves are bad; they’re just not to MJ’s standards. When you listen to albums like Off The Wall, Thriller, Bad, and Dangerous, it’s abundantly clear how precise and intricate he demanded the finished products be, and we all know that he had his hands in the creative process from start to finish. Unfortunately, the King of Pop is no longer with us, so the “unfinished” music he left behind can only be inferred and interpreted at best. This brings us back to that skepticism. Who truly has the authority and know-how to turn a pile of demos and unfinished tracks into not just quality versions, but the kind of quality that MJ would demand?
The announcement of Xscape had a little more hope surrounding it than Michael did a few years back. This release seemingly has a little more thought injected into it, and the inclusion of Michael’s original versions to juxtapose with the new interpretations adds a level of respect and insight that fans can feel good about going forward with. Still, Michael was the kind of guy who would record hundreds of songs for a project only to whittle them down to about a dozen, so the pool of material left to pull from can only assumed to be vast. That skepticism has many layers to it, and until we’re able to hear what we’re getting with this new album, it’s only going to intensify.
Luckily, our curiosities have finally been thwarted with the release of the first single, “Love Never Felt So Good,” which comes in the form of the album version and a remixed version that doubles a proper duet with none other than Mr. Justin Timberlake. Upon the first listen, we can instantly determine that it was the right move to go with this song. The superior remixed track is a total throwback to Off The Wall-era Michael injected with a modern flair. Keeping in line with the soulful/funky nostalgia fest we’re still in the middle of (“Get Lucky,” “Blurred Lines,” “Happy,” etc.,) “Love” actually works well in a Top-40 context. Adding JT to the mix was a novel move, too. He’s a well-respected artist, with a relevant edge to him, a far contrast from Michael’s first single, “Hold My Hand,” which featured the increasingly irrelevant Akon. In contrast, the album version has a much more soulful vibe, harking back to some of Off The Wall‘s slower, groovier moments. Once again, though, it still has that edge of modernity wrapped neatly around it
While he album version is well done in its own right, and as much as we can call agree that there’s something special about MJ standing in the spotlight by himself, it’s the remixed duet that’s the standout star here. The “MJT” pairing was always inevitable, and it really does work will. Is this Michael Jackson’s greatest composition? Not by a long shot. However, it’s something finally feels worthy of his legacy. This is the first track released since 2001’s “Butterflies” that actually feels like it could be relevant to a new generation, and not because of who else is featured, but because the song is actually good. With both versions simultaneously working together for single release, this incredible “yin yang” blossoms as a result. We can to really feel two sides of Michael Jackson that have always worked together to create masterpiece after masterpiece. This reminds us of where he came from and just why he’s continuously been lauded for his bar-raisning status in pop, rock, and R&B. Hopefully this will be the song that brings the King of Pop back to a dominant place on the charts, but even if that ship has truly sailed for good, “Love Never Felt So Good” is a solid addition to an unparalleled career that will resonate until the end of time.
ALBUM VERSION: 6/10