Well, now we know why 40 of the first 50 words in “Breaking News” are simply “Michael Jackson” over and over again. It’s not to remind the world of the existence of a man named Michael Jackson (I think most people still remember, actually); it’s to insist that the song itself is actually being sung by Michael Jackson, and not by, say, a reunited 98 Degrees. Never mind that MJ’s estate claims these oddly low-registered vocals truly do belong to their cash cow (this in the face of skeptical comments from Jackson family members), “Breaking News” sounds like an audio greeting-card arrangement of “Tabloid Junkie,” or a Kidz Bop version of any given Dangerous track, though the lyrics exhibit seemingly genuine MJ paranoia. If I believed in the ability for people to exact retribution from beyond the grave like something out of, I dunno, the “Thriller” video, I would almost suspect Jacko returned just to mess with the tapes this and all the other forthcoming “new” songs were culled from in an effort to discredit the entire project.
Then again, if the evidence represented by the Akon duet “Hold My Hand,” the official first single from the upcoming album is any indication, the producer and engineers didn’t need any help from the other side to ruin Jackson’s legacy. The maxim that the better the singer, the worse they sound on Auto-Tune gets put to the ultimate test here. Jackson’s reedy but flexible growl, at its peak, would not have benefited from any restrictions. But as anyone who sat through This Is It could tell you, MJ’s voice had seen better days than when this track was presumably recorded (indeed, it’s hard to think he would ever sound worse). Unfortunately, his voice has been outlived by the Stepford Crooners’s instrument of choice, to the point that technology could make MJ indistinguishable from Akon—of all people. His legacy is thus consumed in a homogenized whirlpool of samey, would-be triumphant Black Eyed Peas anthems from the mount.