Monday, October 26, 2009

This Is It': It's moderately memorable

Michael Jackson's "This is it" is a nice keepsake for the King of Pop's fans, though the majority of the music here is already available elsewhere. The album is a compilation of music that inspired the movie of the same name, a documentary about the singer's final rehearsals for a series of London concerts, which premieres tonight. The hits show the breadth of his artistry, but the main reason to buy this double-disc collection is to get the title song, a 1983 ballad co-written with Paul Anka that was released as a "brand new" song two weeks ago and features backing vocals by The Jacksons. There is also an orchestral version of the song, which isn't improved by the flourishes. The two-CD package is dressed up with a lavish 36-page booklet, unreleased demos of hits Beat It, Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' and She's Out of My Life (an acoustic version), and a spoken-word poem, Planet Earth. Those are nice curios for die-hard Jackson fans, but that audience may have been better served by live renditions of some of the hits included here. The album gives you all the familiar songs, sequenced in the order they appear in the film. What you wind up with is more a soundtrack to Jackson's career than a soundtrack to a movie that focuses on his preparations for the London concerts, which he hoped would return him to glory. It is nice to hear Jackson in that glory, unvarnished by the controversy that has dogged him even in death. Kicking things off, appropriately, is the blistering workout Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'. What follows is one memorable pop pleasure after another, showcasing Jackson's versatility as a vocalist and evolution as a songwriter. There is a timelessness to songs such as the gentle Human Nature, defiant They Don't Care About Us and poignant Man in the Mirror, and smash '80s hits like Thriller and Beat It still resonate. While this project buffs Jackson's legacy, it doesn't add much to it. Maybe the documentary will bring fresh insight about the enigmatic entertainer. Considering how posthumous sales of his catalog have skyrocketed, it's hard to imagine This Is It as a must-have for those who already have invested in his classic albums and hits compilations.

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