By Devin Holt
Michael Jackson's second posthumous album, Xscape, was released Tuesday (you can stream it on Spotify), and believe it or not, it's actually pretty good. The classic Michael elements are all there, with a few experimental touches.
"Love Never Felt so Good" harkens back to his Off the Wall days. The title track and "Slave to the Rhythm" both have a funky synth pop feel reminiscent of "Remember the Time." The album's biggest surprise is "A Place with no Name," its eerie sound a clear nod to "A Horse with No Name."
Which is all well and dandy, but how does Xscape match up with other albums released after the artists behind them died?
All judgments are completely arbitrary and have been issued on a scale of meets, beats, or doesn't live up to the hype.
Life After Death — The Notorious B.I.G.
Judgment: Xscape doesn't live up.
Sorry MJ fans, but Xscape can't touch this. Largely considered one of the best hip-hop albums of all time, Life After Death was overseen by Biggie himself and released just a few weeks after he died. Listening back, it's hard to tell if the clap-heavy "Going Back to Cali" was a celebration or a diss, but that doesn't change the fact that it slams.
R U Still Down? [Remember Me] — 2Pac
Judgment: King of Pop beats the rap king this time.
More than any other rapper, Tupac Shakur is known for his many posthumous albums. Still Down was chosen for this list because it was the second record released after his death, so it made for the most direct comparison to Xscape. Sadly, the album doesn't stand up next to Jackson's latest. Tupac's lyrical flow is always dope, but Xscape wins on production quality.
MTV Unplugged in New York — Nirvana
Judgment: Xscape definitely doesn't beat this.
When the MTV Unplugged concert with Nirvana first aired, Kurt Cobain was still alive. But after the singer's suicide, MTV and the record label were desperate to keep up with the demand for Nirvana's music. They re-aired the concert repeatedly (this was well before YouTube) and released an album version of the show. Today that album stands as one of Nirvana's best. It's not just about how good the concert was, but how emotionally raw and surprising it was. Cobain's take on the classic "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" felt like it came out of left field.
And while Cobain and Jackson were both the voice of a generation, Nirvana takes it with no contest.
People, Hell and Angels — Jimi Hendrix
Judgment: Xscape meets this one.
Probably the most comparable album on the list. People, Hell and Angels was released recently and made with no direct input from the artist whose name is attached to it. It probably won't be labeled a classic, but provides a good experience for fans. We call it a tie.
Closer — Joy Division
Judgment: Xscape can't beat the goth rock classic.
It's a shame that Ian Curtis didn't live to see the impact of Closer. The influence of its dark sound and lonely vocals can be heard today in everything from The Legendary Pink Dots to Skinny Puppy and Nine Inch Nails. The depressing tone of the album wasn't fake — Curtis committed suicide just two months before his masterpiece was released — but the tragedy behind this emotional honesty led to an album that beats Xscape hands down.
Michael — Michael Jackson
Judgment: Jackson would have been proud of Xscape but left Michael on the studio floor.
In some ways, the quality of Xscape is a relief. After 2010's incredibly weak Michael, MJ fans were faced with the prospect of another album full of dredged up studio rejects every year. As contrived as it was rushed, Michael couldn't be saved by guest appearances from Akon, Lenny Kravitz, and 50 Cent. How not to do a posthumous release.