Michael Jackson's "Much Too Soon": Now, This Is More Like It
Not today, anyway.
Lean back, close your eyes, and surrender to the sweet, stirring sounds of the Dan Fogelberg classic "Longer."
Listen to that a couple of times.
Then check out "Much Too Soon," the third leak from Michael, the first posthumous Jacko album.
Despite significant differences in subject matter - Fogelberg's tune is an extended profession of love, while Jackson's explores the bitter sting of rejection - what the the two songs share is a heavy sense of gray, 1975-in-autumn melancholy; I think that's down to the ballad tempos, the unhurried, snail-like vocals, the daydreaming, plectrum-assisted acoustic guitars, the surging string arrangements curling up like sleepy Siamese kittens by a space heater and curdling like spoiled milk. Is this a weird look for Jackson? Not really, considering that "Much Too Soon" was cut just a couple year after "Longer" passed its radio peak, during the Thriller sessions; Fogelburg's inescapable sensitive-guy folk hit may have inspired Jackson to try his hand at the same aesthetic.
What's weird, to me, is that the folks promoting Michael didn't think to leak "Much Too Soon" first - before one-two gut-punching us with "Breaking News" and "Hold My Hand." It'd be easy to get cynical about the positioning of "Much Too Soon" as a lead single - it isn't a "new" song in a literal sense, and the title doubles as an echo of the shock Jackson fans still feel about his untimely demise - but the King of Pop was always all about big, unwieldy, Messianic gestures, wasn't he? And, ironically, "Much Too Soon" serves to humanize him, stripping his presence of King King-sized bang-pow sonics and replacing them with trenchant harmonicas and unplugged-guitar scales and ooooohing choirs and a weeping-willow orchestra. When Jackson voices - there's no question that it's him, and no-one's sharing the spotlight with him - plaints like "I never thought she'd leave me forever, but who knows just what the future brings," you can almost imagine him superimposed into that scene in Bambi when Bambi realizes that his mother's been shot, just wandering out into the clearing with huge, teary, anime eyes, placing his hand on the back of the sobbing fawn, looking up into the sky, and surrendering to the song as he feels it coming on.
And it all just works, in a way no Jackson single has in a long, long time - probably because "Much Too Soon" was written and recorded a long, long time ago.