Just as The Beatles' "Love" and the "Viva Elvis" Cirque du Soleil soundtracks transformed classic material into a new listening experience for fans, Michael Jackson's "Immortal" album -- the soundtrack for his "The Immortal World Tour" Cirque production -- aims to do the same. Not that Jackson's hits need the help, which is perhaps why less is changed than more.
Whereas the Beatles' Grammy-winning "Love" was more liberal in its mash-ups and bold transitions, "Immortal" remains more protective of Jackson's original vision. In some cases -- like "Planet Earth/Earth Song" -- "Immortal" incorporates Jackson's spoken word poetry, seemingly in an approach to cut to the heart of the deceased legend's true -- and oft-scrutinized -- character.
"I want to make sure that the fans, his family and everyone that was close to him know this is a Michael Jackson record," producer Kevin Antunes told Billboard of "Immortal" last month. Antunes remixes, mashes up and in a few rare cases, completely re-imagines Jackson 5 and solo hits, using only a small amount of unheard Jackson takes. It's a compilation that is sure to excite big fans for the mere idea that it introduces a new way to interact with material that's been poured over, and in some cases, canonized. However, the slight alterations that are made are likely to be lost of those who are not already extensively familiar with Jackson's massive catalogue, not just his hits.
So what exactly is new on "Immortal"? Here are five re-imagined tracks worth paying attention to on "Immortal," released today (Nov. 21) on Epic Records.
1. In one of the album's less club-ready moments, the Jackson 5's 1970 classic "I'll Be There" is stripped down to a solemn piano-only ballad, allowing young Michael's voice to shine even more than it did on the original. While the mashup of Jackson 5's gives light to an altered "ABC," "I'll Be There" is the finest Jackson 5 moment on "Immortal."
2. "They Don't Care About Us," from 1996's HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I, is perhaps one of Jackson's most misunderstood songs, with antisemitic controversy surrounding the track. The public controversy remains, but vocally, Jackson's "woo-hoos" and aggressive, military-tinged beats are matched by a stunning choir.
3. The posthumous album's lead "single," "Immortal Megamix," is full of bombast and dance club glory, mashing up "Can You Feel It," "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," "Billie Jean," and "Black Or White." Although it starts off with scratching and drum rolls that feel like an odd fit for Jackson classics through the years, the 9-minute "Megamix" is, without a doubt, the most altered listening experience on the record -- and sure to get you moving. Finally, the genius of "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" is not overshadowed.
4. Some may think of this brief "Thriller" version as the haunted house remix, with its chain-rattling, thunder-filled intro. What the stripped-down track does is fully channel the classic video's vision as it starts, but keeps what may be Jackson's most classic song intact. Naturally, the Vincent Price narration stands -- what good would a hour remix of "Thriller" be without it?
5. On "Dancing Machine"/"Blame It On the Boogie," two of the Jackson 5/Jacksons' most underrated dance tracks get the mash-up treatment in addition to an update past the disco era. Industrial drums and sound effects have been added in an attempt to mimic production elements Jackson utitlized in his later material. The remix shines not because it mashes up two of MJ's two biggest hits, but because it escalates the songs' dance-inspiring grooves.