Review: Michael Jackson – “The Indispensable” & “The Ultimate Fan Extras” Collections

Share Button

As reported exclusively in my previous article, on June 28 2013 Sony Music and the Michael Jackson Estate launched their “Michael Jackson Global iTunes Campaign” by digitally releasing two new collections of remastered Jackson material.

Below I will review these collections individually. First up, “Michael Jackson – The Indispensable Collection”

The Indispensable Collection

Considering the ever-growing number of Michael Jackson compilations available, many fans have been quick to dismiss this particular collection as yet another opportunistic attempt to rob the world’s loyal and dedicated MJ fans of their hard-earned cash.

Usually I would agree – but in this case, I do not. At least not entirely.

“Why?” most of you will ask. Well, allow me to explain…

While I agree that there are far too many Michael Jackson greatest hits packages on the market (“Number Ones”, “The Essential” and “King of Pop” to name just a few) – I do not consider this collection to be part of that group.

It’s a collection, not a compilation.

One thing I like about this, as opposed to previous attempts to re-package MJ’s music, is that it is comprehensive. Record executives have not gathered at a round-table meeting in one of their swanky offices and hand picked which songs will be included, and which will not.

Instead, “Michael Jackson – The Indispensable Collection” offers fans, new and old, the chance to (legally) download Michael Jackson’s entire adult solo catalog with the single click of a button.

Until now, this has not been possible.

For the first time since it was originally released back in 1995, the new material from the “HIStory” album is included in a collection – unlike 2009’s “The Collection”, for example, which includes just five of Jackson’s albums (“Off The Wall”, “Thriller”, “Bad”, “Dangerous” and “Invincible”).

Also included is 1997’s “Blood On The Dance Floor” album, featuring five original tracks and eight remixes of songs featured on “HIStory”.

In addition to the seven above-mentioned studio albums that CBS/Sony Music released throughout his life, Sony and The Michael Jackson Estate have included a ‘live album’ lifted from their “Bad 25” box set released in September 2012 – three years after Jackson’s death.

The ‘live album’ samples the majority of Jackson’s performance at Wembley Stadium on July 16, 1988 – one of his 123 record-breaking “Bad World Tour” dates.

The inclusion of the live album, officially titled “Live At Wembley July 16, 1988”, doesn’t sit entirely comfortably with me. Unlike the rest of this collection, “Live At Wembley July 16, 1988” is not a studio album. For me, the contents of a collection like this should be consistent.

In addition, this is not an album that Jackson ever personally released, nor does it showcase his complete, unedited performance.

In fact, “Live At Wembley July 16, 1988” excludes some of the my favourite moments from the show, including Jackson’s spine-tingling ad lib outburst and call-and-response between performances of “I’ll Be There” and “Rock With You”. Also excluded is the incredible twelve-second note Jackson holds at the end of “Rock With You”. Both can be seen below:

These are instances that showcase the King of Pop as his ‘live’ best. Alas, consumers won’t hear them.

Another complaint I have, as petty as it may be, is the artwork. It’s almost as if Sony couldn’t afford to purchase Photoshop for their graphic designers, instead creating the cover-art in Microsoft Paint. Either that, or they’re suffering from an egregious lack of creativity.

Despite my beef with particular elements of this collection, it’s still impressive and serves its purpose very well.

Although it may not be desirable to or required by the more seasoned Jackson fans around the world (most of us already own all this material a hundred times over) – “The Indispensable Collection” stands to be a fantastic starting-point for those who are discovering the King of Pop for the very first time.

My rating: 

The Ultimate Fan Extras Collection

While I think that Sony and The Estate went close to hitting the nail on the head with “The Indispensable Collection”, they’ve majorly missed the mark with this one.

“Michael Jackson – The Ultimate Fan Extras Collection” consists of 162 tracks spanning 1979 to present.

I see this collection as a massive missed opportunity to provide Jackson’s dedicated, longtime fans with something they can treasure – instead delivering a hodgepodge of anything and everything Sony had available on their database.

The contents of the album are previously released in one way or another. A large portion of the collection is lifted straight from “Bad 25”, “Immortal”, “The Ultimate Collection”, “The Jacksons – Live” as well as an assortment of other album re-issues and CD singles. As one fan put it; “This is simply a playlist with a price tag.”

Unfortunately for the more hardcore Jackson-enthusiasts, none of the content in this collection is unreleased. This, in my opinion, is where Sony and The Estate missed their chance to shine.

The collection includes the full track list of the posthumously released “Michael” album – which Sony and The Estate wants fans to believe consists of ten songs recorded by Michael Jackson.

This, unfortunately, may not be the case.

Only seven of the ten tracks on the “Michael” album are proven to be legitimate Michael Jackson songs. The authenticity of other three – “Breaking News”, “Monster” and “Keep Your Head Up” (the ‘Cascio tracks’, supplied by Eddie Cascio and James Porte) – continues to be questioned by Jackson fans around the world.

When the “Michael” album first came out, in December 2010, it was shrouded in controversy. The controversy was solely due to the inclusion of the three Cascio tracks. Michael Jackson’s family, along with masses of fans around the world protested their release back then, deeming the tracks to be fraudulent. The Jackson family, and fans, charged that a Jackson imitator, not Michael Jackson himself (as Mr. Cascio claims), had recorded the lead vocals.

And now, in 2013, despite the reaction they caused three years ago, and the ongoing division they have caused within the Michael Jackson fan community, Sony and The Estate are re-issuing them.

Now, I understand that “The Ultimate Fan Extras Collection” intends to give fans an all-encompassing set of ‘extras’ released over the course of Jackson’s entire career (from both before and after his death), and that no editing or selective exclusion has taken place in relation to any of the content featured – but surely there are circumstances under which a bit of common sense initiative could be taken with the final track listing?

The obvious solution to avoid this type of repeat-controversy would be to not include the Cascio tracks – right? To me, it’s a no-brainer. In fact, if Sony and The Estate had done that, I’d likely be praising them for doing so in this space – possibly even overlooking the fact that, in my opinion, there are other major let-downs within this collection (which I’ll get to in a moment).

While I do enjoy a number of the legitimate MJ tracks on the “Michael” album, I think the inclusion of the album (and other posthumously crafted material, such as “Immortal” and the remixes from “Bad 25”) was not necessary.

Forget their inclusion altogether, I say.

Instead, what I would’ve liked to have seen is the world-exclusive release of the original unreleased demos from which the seven legitimate “Michael” album tracks – including “Hollywood Tonight”, “Best of Joy” and “Behind the Mask” – were re-produced. That would, in my opinion, have taken the collection to a whole new level and given longtime fans seven good reasons to invest in it.

On a positive note, I did find it nice to see the likes of “Carousel”, “Billie Jean” (1981 home demo) and “Someone In The Dark” released within the same collection as “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” (demo), “P.Y.T.”(demo), and “Beat It” (demo) for the first time. All of these, and others also included in the collection, have been released in the format that Michael Jackson left them – incomplete works-in-progress.

A number of remixes which featured on official MJ single releases over the years have also been included. While I don’t deem these to be essential additions to the collection, I’m not necessarily against their inclusion either. They are part of Michael’s legacy, after all. They were released during his lifetime; on his official products.

However, items that have been worked on or altered since June 25 2009, are part of The Estate’s legacy. That’s where I draw the line.

In my opinion “Michael Jackson – The Ultimate Fan Extras Collection” suffers from a case of ‘great concept / terrible execution’ – as do most of Sony and The Estate’s posthumous releases to date.

As a loyal fan who supported and purchased every item officially released over the course of Michael Jackson’s career, this collection offers nothing that require or desire.

My rating: ★☆☆

What do YOU think about these collections? Discuss in the comments section below. All opinions welcome!

Follow: twitter.com/damienshields

Share Button