Releasing an artist’s music posthumously raises questions of authenticity. The doctored-up restorations of their songs may not represent what the artist had intended the original mixes to become, and the turning over of their estates allow living artists to appropriate their material on a whim and mix it to their liking. Case in point: Michael Jackson’s “Love Never Felt So Good.” It’s the first track that’s dropped off his forthcoming album “Xscape,” featuring unreleased demos and recordings from the King of Pop’s treasure troves.
Jackson had a knack for imagining lush, danceable melodies that were attractive both within and outside the mainstream, threading listeners together on the belief that music is supposed to make you feel good. “Love Never Felt So Good” is no exception; it was originally slated to be on “Thriller,” and strongly resembles another groove from the album, “Baby Be Mine.” Jackson’s vocals don’t encompass their full range and breadth captured on final album mixes, but his trademark disco-funk backbeat takes center stage.
“Love Never Felt So Good” runs into trouble when Justin Timberlake chimes in to sing the second verse. Though Timberlake’s brand of soul is Jackson’s perfect foil (the two have similar silky, emotive voices), the song’s underpinnings are obscured by his 21st century production; rather than leaving the mix as is, Timberlake’s backing band played over the original beat (which is still slightly audible) and the recording quality between the two is incongruent. Timberlake uses the interlude between the second and third refrains to almost entirely mix out the original tune, while sampling another Jackson track and panting, “dance with me,” which comes across as self-aggrandizement instead of the suaveness it intends to convey.
Is “Love Never Felt So Good” a good song? Yes, arguably a great one that stands up to Jackson’s myriads of masterpieces. But it’s inauthentic thanks to Timberlake’s alterations on the original product. Posthumous artist mash-ups should be avoided at all costs, and while “Love Never Felt So Good” is the least egregious example, it would have been a stronger track were it left alone.