Here's something unexpected: The new Michael Jackson single rules.
When Epic Records announced in March that it would release a posthumous album from the pop superstar who died in 2009 -- another posthumous album, that is -- there seemed little reason to get excited.
In 2010, the label's disappointing "Michael" collection suggested there wasn't much of value in the Epic vaults; if anything, the album boosted your sense of Jackson's genius as a record maker, in that he appeared to know exactly what was worth putting out (and what wasn't) during his lifetime.
But the appearance last Thursday night of "Love Never Felt So Good" -- the first single from "Xscape," due out May 13 -- complicates that impression. Simply put, Jackson was sitting on a piece of disco-soul gold.
With its buoyant keyboards and effervescent groove -- not to mention Jackson's typically sumptuous vocal melody -- "Love Never Felt So Good" would have fit on 1979's "Off the Wall" or its world-changing 1982 follow-up, "Thriller." The song pulses with the singer's signature blend of emotions, good vibes shaded with the knowledge that they'll soon run out.
According to a press release, Jackson wrote the tune in 1983 with Paul Anka, "around the time they recorded ‘This Is It,'" featured in the 2009 concert film of the same title. The new version was produced by John McClain, co-executor of Jackson's estate.
Epic also issued a remix of the track featuring duet vocals by Justin Timberlake and a muscled-up beat from Timberlake, Timbaland and Jerome "J-Roc" Harmon; they're among the producers whom Epic chief L.A. Reid selected to help with "contemporizing" the archived recordings slated for release on "Xscape." But their additions to "Love Never Felt So Good" don't improve the music. They only remind us how peerless Jackson could be.