- Associated Press - Friday, December 10, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) — Michael Jackson spent the last two years of his life plotting his musical comeback. Besides a spectacular, record-breaking concert series planned for London, he was also tapping the hottest producers and biggest names for an album he hoped would help restore the luster to his spectacular yet troubled career.

“He wanted to give the world a gift. He didn’t want the world to depend on ‘Thriller,’ or ‘Bad’ or ‘Off the Wall,’” said Theron “Neff-U” Feemster, one of the last producers to work with Jackson. “He wanted to give them something new and fresh, and something they could hold and remember forever.”

Jackson didn’t live to see his dream come to fruition, but with help from Feemster, the singer’s estate and several other collaborators, another Jackson album has been crafted for his fans.

Michael,” to be released Tuesday, contains 10 songs, most of which Jackson was working on when he died in June 2009 at age 50. The tracks were at different stages of completion, but producers like longtime Jackson collaborator Teddy Riley, Grammy-winner Tricky Stewart and rocker Lenny Kravitz worked over the last year to put the finishing touches on an album they believe Jackson would have been proud to call his own.

“I know he stood behind it, so I’m cool with what I did,” said Kravitz. “I was proud to put it out and knew that he’d be all over it, that he’d be really with it.”

Yet some are questioning whether “Michael” should be considered a true Jackson album since the King of Pop — a notoriously meticulous creator who labored over his creations until he thought they were as perfect as they could be — never put his stamp of approval on it.

Earlier this year, the Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am, who had done some work with Jackson before he died, harshly rebuked the planned posthumous release in an interview with The Associated Press, saying: “Now that he is not part of the process, what are they doing? Why would you put a record out like that? Because he was a friend of mine, I just think that’s disrespectful.”

That’s not the only criticism of the project. When the single “Breaking News” was previewed for fans on michaeljackson.com, his three nephews publicly assailed the song, a condemnation of the media, and said the voice featured on the track wasn’t Jackson‘s. This led Riley, former manager Frank Dileo and others to come out and vouch for the track’s authenticity.

“I don’t think that it’s fair for anyone to say it without any proof. You have no proof,” said Riley in a recent interview, adding that the producers “took it to the next level” and hired three forensic musicologists in defense of the album.

Sony Records, which is releasing “Michael,” also got the backing of other Jackson collaborators to prove that it is Jackson.

John Branca, who was Jackson’s lawyer for years and is co-executor of his estate, would not specifically address the veracity of Jackson’s vocals, saying the facts speak for themselves.

But as far as whether Jackson would have approved of the release of the songs, Branca, while calling Jackson a “perfectionist,” compared the upcoming album to that of last year’s “This Is It.” That film was based on rehearsals for Jackson’s sold-out comeback shows at London’s O2 arena that were never to be. With careful editing, a dazzling — if unfinished — portrait of Jackson emerged.

“If you remember, there was criticism about the movie ‘This Is It’ because it contained rehearsal footage,” said Branca. “Some said Michael would not have wanted to release it. But people loved it and it expanded people’s love for him.”

Michael,” a mixture of soulful pop ballads and up-tempo, mechanical-sounding grooves that recall his “Dangerous” era, is a much more polished artistic project than “This Is It,” party due to the top names brought in by the estate to finish Jackson’s creative vision.

Stewart, who has worked with such top talent as Beyonce and Rihanna, never collaborated with Jackson but was asked to work on the ballad “Keep Your Head Up,” which Jackson co-wrote. Stewart said the process was a bit intimidating at first.

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