MICHAEL JACKSON: The Motown 50 Mixes (Label: Motown)

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MICHAEL JACKSON: The Motown 50 Mixes

Timing is everything in the music business. The destiny of a record – whether it achieves hit status or ends up in the bargain bin – depends on a clutch of variables, not least the receptivity of its intended audience. If this compilation, featuring new mixes of old Michael Jackson Motown songs, had been released six months ago, no one – except die-hard MJ freaks and Motown aficionados, perhaps – would have batted an eyelid. But now, in the wake of Jackson’s tragic death in June, everything’s changed. As you read this, it’s probable that the ‘Motown 50 Mixes’ is flying high in the charts around the world and rubbing shoulders with a clutch of other Jackson titles that have been revived by their creator’s demise. The price of fame when you die relatively young – as in Jackson’s case – is immortality: of a kind, at least and, to the hand-rubbing glee of the record companies, that means increased sales of albums. In death, Michael Jackson is a hotter commodity than he was in life. And the irony is, of course, that his massive debts – which prompted him to commit himself to a ridiculously punishing series of concerts at the O2 – have already probably been covered by recent surge in sales of MJ product. Record companies always get castigated for cashing-in on an artist after death occurs but in the case of ‘The Motown 50 Mixes’ and the recent ‘Hello World: The Motown Solo Collection,’ those projects were already in the pipeline before the sad event of June 25th. In the case of ‘The Motown 50 Mixes,’ it was originally commissioned to be part of Motown’s 50th birthday celebrations. The idea on the part of producers Tom Rowland and Jeff Moskow was to strip back the sweetening and production gloss from some of MJ’s classic Motown oeuvre and let the unadulterated, angelic purity of Jackson’s pubescent voice be centre stage. Of course, to purists, this notion is nothing short of total sacrilege…in theory at least. But in practice, what results – at least to my ears – is something almost miraculous. What was familiar and jaded has been freshened up beyond belief. Basically, the remixers have just played with the faders – dropping out the drums, horns and in some cases string parts – and dabbled with EQ levels. Thankfully, the producers have been very respectful to the originals and there are no contemporary touches at all. The set includes re-worked versions of the MJ classics ‘I’ll Be There,’ ‘Ben,’ ‘Got To Be There,’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine,’ and the Jackson 5 staples ‘I Want You Back’ and ‘ABC.’ The effect is really like hearing them for the first time. Above all, this enjoyable CD re-affirms what a phenomenal singer young Michael Jackson was.