The Big Hurt: Pretender to the throne?

Will the 'real' Michael Jackson please stand up . . .
By DAVID THORPE  |  November 16, 2010

111_jackson_main

On December 14 — just in time for the holidays, if you hadn't noticed — Sony will release Michael, a posthumous collection of unreleased songs from the King of Pop's later years. The first single has already been posted to michaeljackson.com: "Breaking News," a recording from 2007 that was recently spruced up for release. However, members of Michael Jackson's family — including his sister LaToya, his nephews TJ and Taryll, and, it's reported, even Jackson's own children — deny that the vocals on "Breaking News" are authentic. As soon as the song was released, thousands of fans agreed: it doesn't sound much like MJ. The Web erupted with conspiracy theories. Had Sony paid a sound-alike to craft a phony Michael Jackson single?

The folks at Sony, citing "waveform analysis" evidence, stand by the authenticity of the vocal, but they seem to be in the minority.

First, let's be clear on one point: "Breaking News" is a terrifically bad song (no, not Michael Jackson Bad bad — just plain awful). The production, by Teddy Riley, is bafflingly square, as if he'd taken a triple-dog-dare to cram every passé studio flourish into one track. It sounds like new-jack swing plus '90s boy band plus Scott Storch synth strings, with a little latter-day Britney thrown in. And do mine ears deceive me or does it start with a fucking Trevor Horn orchestra stab? It sounds cheesy and outdated even when compared with Riley's Dangerous-era productions like "Jam" and "Remember the Time."

But, granted that it sucks (and everyone seems to agree on that much), the contentious issue is whether "Breaking News" is really sung by Michael Jackson. The vocals on the chorus sound enough like Michael to be his own, but they're odd enough to cast some doubt. There's a distinct slapped-together feel and a bit too much phony harmonizing. (Okay, that could be the result of working with incomplete tracks — the same reason Nirvana's "You Know You're Right" and the Beatles' "Free As a Bird" sound a little off.)

But the vocals on the verses are clear enough, and they sound almost exactly like Michael Jackson — which is why I still have some lingering suspicion. Michael Jackson, from his childhood to his final album, sounded exactly like Michael Jackson. The title track from 2001's Invincible isn't the greatest MJ song, but the vocal has so much more detail and nuance than "Breaking News" that a side-by-side listen is pretty revealing. If "Breaking News" really is the King's work, I suspect he wouldn't have released it without laying down a few more takes.

Maybe I'm just skeptical because of all the controversy. Hell, maybe I'm just confused because the lyrics refer to Michael Jackson in the third person so many times. Dubious as the track may sound, there's one very good reason to believe it's real. Why would anyone fake a Michael Jackson tabloid persecution song in 2010?

1  |  2  |   next >
  Topics: Big Hurt , Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson, Sony,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY DAVID THORPE
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   THE BIG HURT: LUPE’S CAREER CHANGE  |  March 19, 2013
    You may have already had a big luxurious eye roll at celebrities as "creative directors" of companies ...
  •   WHO CHARTED: SMOOTH JAZZ SONGS  |  March 12, 2013
    If you dig deep enough into Billboard.com's genre charts, past the foreign hits, past the Latin and Christian stuff and the MySpace streaming charts, you'll find one last afterthought: Smooth Jazz.
  •   THE BIG HURT: THIS WEEK IN OFFENSIVE CONTENT  |  March 08, 2013
    In her long career of pushing boundaries, Madonna has run afoul of some of the world's most powerful institutions.
  •   THE BIG HURT: DIVING IN THE PR DUMPSTER  |  February 26, 2013
    I've been dumpster diving in the PR bin, the rankest receptacle of music industry waste, and I've come up with a dripping fistful of the month's hottest garbage.
  •   THE BIG HURT: LEANIN' WITH BIEBS  |  February 20, 2013
    Bieber was allegedly photographed sipping something from a double Styrofoam cup, in close proximity to a big bottle of codeine cough syrup. This can only add up to one thing: lean . That purple drank, the laudanum of Screw, the deadly nectar of Pimp C.

 See all articles by: DAVID THORPE