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Michael Jackson's 'This Is It': A glossy, finger-snap-enhanced ballad, but where's the groove?

October 12, 2009 |  7:17 am

The last Michael Jackson album was released in 2001. Yet with the singer's passing this summer, it's a safe bet that one will not have to go years before hearing a bounty of as-yet-unheard Jackson songs again. The music industry is more than adept at exploring an artist's unreleased back catalog, and the first of what promises to be an onslaught of posthumous releases from the star hit the Web late Sunday/early Monday.

Few details were released on "This Is It," but the song bears the same name as what would have been Jackson's comeback concerts at London's 02 Arena this year. It will now serve as the title track to the concert film and accompanying album. The film arrives for a limited two-week run on Oct. 28, and the album will be released in North America on Oct. 27. 

There's been little information as to what exactly lies in the Jackson vaults, although it's been reported and speculated that enough material for multiple albums exists. Though officially released as a single, and carrying backing vocals from Jackson's brothers, "This Is It," at least, sounds like a demo. Jackson's initial count-off feels raw and distant, but this isn't an intimate peek at the singer in the studio.

An orchestra sweeps in and brushes the song into the safe and comfortable territory of many of the slower songs on 2001's "Invincible." Yet though Jackson's voice sounds crisp, the lushness of the "Invincible" ballads is lost. It saves "This Is It" from some of the latter's schmaltz, but doesn't help its repetitiveness. Elastic, slow-dance guitar notes fill the spaces between the finger-snaps, but if the song sways, it never quite hits a groove.

"I'm the light of the world, this is real," Jackson sings to a generic lover, and the backing "oohs" ensure the sentiment goes down easy. But it's a trifle, and while it's one that certainly won't embarrass Jackson's legacy or break the hearts of fans eager to hear Jackson's voice again, it does bring the fallen pop icon a little back down to earth. 

-- Todd Martens

Related: Robert Hilburn on Michael Jackson: the wounds, the broken heart