After writing about my initial encounters with the apocryphal Michael Jackson Cascio tracks and my subsequent, even more damning reassessment, I thought I should close out my epic trilogy by trying to explain exactly what I find so interesting about these songs, above and beyond the sordid theories surrounding their genesis. The twelve tracks run the gamut from desperate imitations of past Michael Jackson hits to bland early-2000s pop songs that don’t really fit anywhere into Jackson’s oeuvre. And in spite of the fact that they were clearly intended to sound plausibly like real Michael Jackson songs – whether to encourage Jackson to record them or to encourage us to accept their legitimacy – the number of jarring details and out-of-place touches must serve as either a sign of unabashed creativity or, much more likely, sheer incompetence.
Here now, in brief, are capsule reviews of a few of the more interesting Cascio tracks of the nine that were, we can only assume, deemed too obviously fake to receive any sort of commercial release. (And again, I can’t find these in any form other than the clunky Jungle Vibe links, so you’ll have to navigate through and select each one from a longer list of songs in order to bask in the warm glow of its implausibility.)
Black Widow (Listen)
This track was intended to fit into Jackson’s vast catalogue of songs within the “Misogynistic screed about opportunistic women who attempt to take advantage of our hero, serving as a distraction from much deeper issues with the artist’s sexuality” subgenre. And to be fair, although it’s pretty on the nose, it’s actually not a bad hommage to Jackson. The guitar has some punch, and faux-MJ proves that he can do a better Jackson imitation when yelling and grunting than when he attempts to duplicate Jackson’s inimitable dulcet tones. (Of course, it still doesn’t sound like Jackson, but you knew that.) But in spite of the songwriters’ efforts to make the song sound like a circa-1991 Michael Jackson B-side, they can’t resist throwing in a bizarre operatic interlude, helping to pad the song to its unjustifiable 4 minute and 50 second running time. The slowdown really brings out the jarring fakeness of the singer’s voice, too!
Ready 2 Win (Listen)
It’s tempting for me to focus solely on the Cascio tracks that are good or at least interesting, and it’s a weary obligation to ensure that I not neglect the most anodyne and useless of the set. “Ready 2 Win” definitely fits that description – the problem starts with the orthography of the title, and it doesn’t get any better from there. It’s so uninteresting that I can’t find much to say about it except for singling out the opening “Doo doo doo”s for special scorn. The song tries to build to a rousing Gospel choir-infused climax, as heard in authentic Michael Jackson songs like “Man in the Mirror” and “Keep the Faith”. But unfortunately, the choir in this case seems to be composed entirely of Jason Malachis, somewhat reducing the impact. Truly, a song that is not Ready 4 Primetime. (Heh, heh.)
Another lugubrious plod in the vein of Ready 2 Win, this one at least has the benefit of not including any creative spelling digressions within the five letters of its title, in addition to actually having a bit of a hook. Unfortunately, all of this is offset by its jaw-dropping 6-minute length. The fact that I have the least to say about the longest of these tracks doesn’t seem to reflect very well on the song, either. (Then again, perhaps it actually reflects even more upon the reviewer?)
Burn Tonight (Listen – At the time of writing, the most complete and seemingly unaltered version is the fourth result on the page)
Michael Jackson never showed any interest in adding any Latin flavour to his songs, but here’s a fun fact: Jason Malachi achieved his first taste of extremely limited fame when a decidedly Latin-influenced song of his, Mamacita, was fraudulently passed around as a new Michael Jackson track. And so we have Burn Tonight, a song that moves with so much verve (even the blatantly fake strings in the intro have real swagger) that we can even forgive it for sputtering to a halt without having really gone anywhere at all (aside from detouring into a rather shrill horn solo). In fact, it’s such an energetic piece of music that we can almost, but not quite, look past the the fact that, y’know, the singer totally doesn’t sound like Michael Jackson, and is using so much vibrato that he appears to be having some sort of vocal spasm. Still, it’s not surprising that some initial steps were made to commercially release this song, at least until all parties involved presumably passed out from the stench surrounding it.
All Right (Listen)
I’ve tried to save the best for last here. Ever since I heard this song in the lo-fi medley that served as my initial introduction to the nine unreleased Cascio tracks, it has jumped out at me as something special. Intellectually, I can recognize that it’s a lazy rehash of Stranger In Moscow. It has an awkward unfinished quality, with instrumental flourishes that seem to fade out too quickly. Like all of the Cascio tracks, including even the sub-3 minute Burn Tonight, it seems to run out of inspiration about halfway through. And as with the other songs from this ignominious set, I try not to ponder the lyrics too long lest I become profoundly saddened by the sheer lack of inspiration. (God, that chorus!) Even the title jars – I assume it should be spelled “Alright”, as the chosen spelling sounds more like “All right! Right on, man!” than the gentle reassurance that was intended.
And yet, for whatever reason, I find this song absolutely haunting. Its atmosphere is every bit as thick as that of “Stranger In Moscow”, which is one of Jackson’s best songs. On the surface, the bouncy drums, perky bassline, and major-key chorus should make it a far cheerier affair than the gloomy loneliness of “Stranger”. But for whatever reason, the final effect is quite chilling and disturbing. Is it that way that the forced cornball mirth of the “It’s all right, all right with me!” in the coda reverts to the unsettling opening? Or is it the general creepiness of a blatant pop impostor trying to serenade us into acquiescing to blatant fraud? Whatever it is, the song ends up being the crown jewel of a twelve-song cycle that manages to be strangely impressive for its brazenness, in spite of how shoddy it frequently is.
I honestly wish the twelve Cascio tracks would be professionally released as an album. Perhaps after the ongoing lawsuit brings the truth to light, some enterprising individuals might manage to squeeze a few dollars out of releasing it as a historical curiousity. Sony Music, are you listening? I would love to hear the free jazz squealing of the “Burn Tonight” horn solo remastered in crystal clear high fidelity. I might not buy it, but I would at least play it on Spotify, which I believe counts as 1/100 of a purchase under the current RIAA metrics. And I bet it would at least get more plays than Come Home.