One of the biggest catalogue-oriented titles this week is a DVD: Tuesday saw the release of Michael Jackson’s This is It, the documentary comprised of tour rehearsal footage for the set of London concerts the King of Pop was working on right before his death in June.
I’ve happily pored through 75 percent of my copy (I have a few features to sift through) and upon completion I’ll be sure to post a review. But I’d also like to take a quick look at the other This is It product that’s been on shelves since the film opened in October: the soundtrack. It’s certainly one of the oddest catalogue titles I’ve ever seen and, as you’ll read after the jump, a product I can’t entirely recommend.
The This is It album is comprised of two discs: one features the songs that would have made up the bulk of the set list had the shows gone on, as well as two mixes of a “new” song, the titular “This is It.” The second disc is of particular interest to collectors, featuring some demo material from the MJ/Epic vaults.
At face value, this sounds like a decent package. But there are more than a few flaws inherent. Namely:
- This is It isn’t much more than a greatest hits set. We’re not looking at a playlist of album cuts here; of the 14 songs meant for the concert, there are five singles from Thriller, four from Bad, two apiece from Dangerous and HIStory and a Jacksons track, “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground).” If you own at least one of MJ’s Epic-era compilations (the first disc of HIStory, Number Ones or The Essential Michael Jackson), you own these already. And given that Number Ones and The Essential were bought by millions after Jackson died, even new fans won’t have much to chew on here.
- The promise of “original album masters” is insultingly inaccurate. A fancy marketing phrase that graces a sticker on This is It triumphantly proclaims that original album masters are in use. This is blatantly inaccurate on several counts. For starters, hardcore fans might know that Bad went through several different mixes on CD, with some of the original LP versions being replaced by single masters. Almost all the tracks that went through the change on that album resurface here, namely “Bad” (had more horns on the album version, similar to the mix heard in the video), “The Way You Make Me Feel” (remixed at least twice, once for the CD and once for the single), “Smooth Criminal” (it’s a subtle remix – different breathing in the intro, for one thing – but even so) and “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” (which had a spoken-word intro on the original album mix). If this sounds like nitpicking, consider that the radio mixes/edits of “They Don’t Care About Us” and “Shake Your Body” are present too. Overeager marketing is one thing, but this is an artist who could benefit from original album masters showing up on CD.
- The “This is It” song fiasco. Once the lead single “This is It” was released to radio stations, confusion reigned supreme. Nobody at Epic/Legacy knew where the song came from, chronologically (it’s likely a post-Triumph, pre-Thriller demo). Many were slow to pick up on the fact that the song had been re-recorded and released in 1991 by another artist named Sa-Fire – and nobody had credited the song to its rightful co-author, Paul Anka. (This New York Times piece gives a pretty good insight into the fumblings.) The song itself isn’t terrible – it’s clearly a demo gussied up with a bit too much production – but the lack of archiving might leave a bad taste in your mouth.
- Whimperings from the vault. I’m sure Legacy is stockpiling more MJ outtakes for eventual release – heaven knows Motown is – but putting three demos and a spoken-word interlude on one disc is ridiculous. The four songs total just over 14 minutes. They’re all interesting (save for the dreadful “Planet Earth,” a recording of Jackson speaking a poem that appeared in the sleeve notes for Dangerous) but it almost seems like a waste of disc.
- The price tag. Whether the material is newor old or regardless of the packaging it’s in, $17.99 MSRP is too much for this set. (Wal-Mart does have a variant for $9.99, but it’s just the first disc – not recommended for anyone but the newest of new fans.)
In total, This is It is a bust as an album. It would have done better as an EP (and frugal collectors rejoice – the two versions of “This is It’ and the demos are available as a lower-priced set on iTunes and Amazon), but marketing is what it is. Unless you absolutely have to have it (and can find it at a decent price), wait for a more proper set of vault works to come out. Fortunately, the DVD is well worth your money and attention; check back later for a review of This is It the movie.