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People & Ideas

Jul 13, 2009

After Michael Jackson Part 3: The tease of a new studio album

Popular culture commentator Ross Stapleton examines the life (and after-life) of Michael Jackson in a five-part series. Today, the third instalment .

Even by Elvis Presley standards, Michael Jackson’s death has provided one sensation after another. Popular culture commentator Ross Stapleton examines the life (and after-life) of Michael Jackson in a five-part series. To read Part 1: where there’s a will…, click here. Part 2: Beatles become Jackson’s security blanket is here. Today, the third instalment :

An unfinished Michael Jackson studio album remains the great tease though for anyone interested in future releases.

The likes of Black Eyed Peas’ Will.I.Am and producer and singer Akon are among those who have confirmed they had been working with him on new material.

However, irrespective of its relative state of completion, his estate can count on approving the release of all kinds of previously unreleased songs and live performances recorded over many years. For someone like Jackson who spent inordinate amounts of time in recording studios spanning decades and discarding material because his artistic control was as obsessive as Bob Dylan’s, the vaults offer boundless possibilities for future releases. Whether they contain unreleased crown jewels or most of it is more pedestrian, remains to be heard if not seen!

But freed of Jackson’s controlling hand, an estate bent on not only erasing current debt but wanting to generate fresh wealth for its beneficiaries, is naturally going to be much more favourably disposed to a multitude of future releases along the lines of the Presley estate.

What does sound a little bit more dubious is the claim he recorded — in some fashion — up to 100 personal songs purely for the entertainment of his three children, and if so who knows what they consist of?

Following the enormous viewing audience across all media platforms for his Los Angeles memorial funeral service, a commemorative DVD and CD and song downloads featuring the galaxy of artists who sang so powerfully and movingly at the service would be guaranteed to top global charts and potentially sell millions of units.

Intriguingly, in his last extensive magazine interview in 2007 in advance of the 25th anniversary re-release of an expanded Thriller, Jackson told Ebony magazine  he had no intention of continuing to record into old age. “I won’t keep making music the way James Brown or Jackie Wilson did, where they just killed themselves,” he said. “I wish James Brown could have slowed down and been more relaxed and enjoyed his hard work.”

As unexpected as his death was, it’s less surprising to see the way in which his music and videos are now dominating world charts and digital song downloads are recording numbers no previous back catalogue has seen before. All of this activity only adds to the anticipation of fans wondering about what might have been if his concerts had gone ahead.

They had already declared their hand in selling out a two block series of 50 comeback concerts due to start in London this month and extending into 2010. Snapping up the 750,000 tickets to achieve the single biggest pop concert gross at one venue, they needed little convincing his comeback would have been a triumph. Plans were already advanced to extend that into a global tour that would have included Australia.

The fact that Michael Jackson spent the last third of his life in a constant struggle to keep his head above water financially — while he might have been asset rich he was cash poor — is testament not just to receiving bad advice, but it was also indicative of an uncontrolled ego that wouldn’t tolerate being asked to face the reality of his reckless spending, and a refusal to take more painful measures to stem the red ink.

He’s hardly the first superstar to experience an almost unimaginable scale of celebrity and get lost in the monetary rewards that came with it. But how many became so polarising? Although acquitted in his 2005 trial, his career was seemingly finished as popular entertainer.

Yet he looked ready to bounce back in ways you could hardly believe with his sold out London concerts, intent on restoring his fortunes in all meanings of the word.

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