'Michael is still present in our hearts and minds'
IT has divided fans, critics and even his own family, but the latest record by Michael Jackson has at least one staunch supporter — his brother Jackie.
The 63-year-old singer, who is performing with The Jacksons at this year’s Henley Festival, says Xscape is a fitting tribute to the late King of Pop.
The album, released last month, features eight new songs based on a series of unreleased recordings made between 1983 and 1999.
It is MJ’s second posthumous album since 2010’s Michael, released just over a year after his death.
Reviews have so far been lukewarm and Quincy Jones, who produced Jackson’s biggest sellers Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad, has dismissed it as all “about money”.
Even Jackie’s brother Jermaine, who plays bass for the band, has criticised it, saying the family were not consulted before it was produced.
But for Jackie, the album’s only shortcoming is its brief 34-minute running time.
He said: “I think they did a wonderful job with the material they had — although I would have put more songs on it. I’ve have had 12 or 14 rather than just the eight.
“However, I think it’s great and I’m so pleased with what all the producers managed to achieve. I hope all Michael’s fans will go out and get it.”
Almost five years after his brother’s passing, Jackson said his absence was still keenly felt.
He, Jermaine and younger brothers Tito and Marlon were attempting to reunite the original Jackson 5 line-up in 2009 when the tragedy struck.
They had last performed together in 2001 at a concert to mark Michael’s 30th anniversary as a solo artist.
Declining to refer to him in the past tense, Jackie said: “Michael is sorely missed. We love him so much and he is in our minds and hearts 24 hours a day. He’s someone you just cannot forget. He is a great entertainer and very much a part of our lives.
“I know the fans feel the same way and there are always bittersweet moments when people are singing along and crying even though they’re enjoying themselves.”
The Jacksons finally got back together as a four-piece in June 2012 and have been on the road constantly ever since.
Just one year earlier, a reunion seemed unlikely after Jermaine refused to take part in a tribute tour, deeming it “inappropriate and ill-timed”.
But now Jackie said there were no plans to stop gigging — and they’re even recording a new album between concerts.
He said: “We’ve been touring for almost two years already but we never get tired of playing. There’s nothing like going up on stage with your brothers and singing your songs together while the audience sings along.
“We really feed off that energy when we see the crowd are having such a great time.
“That’s what we do it for — it’s such an incredible feeling and we always want to go back out there and do it again.
“We’re recording right now and that’s what we’re going to be up to all through the summer.
“We’ve laid down a lot of songs but we’re just going to keep recording because you never know what’s going to work until you suddenly hit it.
“I’m really happy with how it’s going — it’s sounding great and we’re really excited. But it’s not ultimately up to us. It’s up to the fans whether they like it or not. We just want to do the best we can and see what happens. I don’t feel any pressure to live up to the old songs. I just try to give the people what they’re looking for.
“They’re expecting to hear that classic Jackson sound mixed with a bit of today’s sound and that’s what we’ve really been working on.
“We’re doing a lot of shows in America then we’re heading over to Europe so we’re pretty much fully booked up between touring on the road and recording.
“We’re hoping to get something finished before September — at least that’s the plan, but don’t hold me to that!”
Despite the festival’s formal black tie dress code, Jackie promised the atmosphere would be anything but starchy.
“I think we’ve got a good chance of making people out there move,” he said.
“Once we get that beat going, everyone we’ve played for so far has started dancing and I’m sure we’re going to see that in Henley too.”
• The Jacksons are performing on the Saturday night of the Henley Festival, which runs from July 9 to 13. Also appearing are Bryan Ferry, Joss Stone, Burt Bacharach, Rebecca Ferguson and The Overtones. Visit www.henley-festival.co.uk.