Michael Jackson's New Song: This Is It?

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Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 12 2009 1:18 PM

Michael Jackson's New Song: This Is It?


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As fans of Elvis Presley and Tupac Shakur are aware, death is no impediment to a prolific career as a recording artist. Michael Jackson's posthumous run kicks off today with the release of "This Is it," which popped up overnight on

.



"This Is It" was originally recorded by Jackson in a spartan piano-and-vocal version, fleshed out here with strings and swooping backup vocals courtesy of Jackson's brothers. It's a sweet, swaying, rather pedestrian number. It is also, to Jackson aficionados, eerily familiar, bearing an uncanny resemblance to "I Never Heard," a song co-written by Jackson and Paul Anka that appeared on a 1991 album by the R & B singer Sa-Fire. In fact, the two songs are identical.





In other words, "This Is It" is not, as Sony Records maintains, a new Michael Jackson song, exhumed from the dusty vaults. It is a demo of "I Never Heard" that was renamed "This Is It" for the purpose of launching the forthcoming Jackson documentary and double-CD package—both titled

This Is It

. Even by the dubious standards of

, it's a tacky move.



And a comical move. Listen closely to "This Is It"—or, for that matter, to "I Never Heard"—and you'll hear a simple confession of newfound love. But Sony evidently wanted more: grandiosity worthy of a martyred pop sovereign. Thus the string-slathered arrangement, an attempt to juice a modest song into something epic and windswept. Everyone knows that Jackson had a weakness for, and excelled at, inspirational kitsch. But "This Is It" isn't "

"—even though it lifts the synthetic finger-snaps straight off of the "Man in the Mirror" rhythm track.



Today's

New York Times

that Sony has unearthed "at least 100" Jackson songs from its archives, "in varying stages of being finished." Undoubtedly, these will eventually be packaged in shiny box sets and gobbled up by insatiable fans.

have provided fascinating glimpses of Jackson's raw brilliance as a vocalist and craftsman, and one hopes that Sony will give us his song-sketches in their bare-bones form, without added jiggery-pokery, or angelic choirs rearing up in background. There's already a genius on those records—who needs a god?



Jody Rosen is a Slate contributor.

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