New Releases, Dec. 14: Michael Jackson, R. Kelly, Crystal Bowersox
Back in the 20th century, when major labels looked to make 40% of their annual revenue in the last three months of the year, come Dec. 14 or so, the industry would sit back and watch as the sales figures piled up.
It was a formula that was only slightly modified over the years: Try to break newcomers in October, get albums by superstars artists into stores in November and see if a greatest hits or two can make a dent in December.
This being the 21st century, you'd think things would change, that the digital marketplace would demand a constant churn of new music, that there would be a pile of new releases greeting recipients of iTunes gift cards. But no, the music industry is still not fast on its feet when it comes to these matters, leaving the Dec. 14 release schedule relatively barren.
It is not as if record companies are getting out of the way of behemoths, though not that long ago if you said the week has new releases from Michael Jackson, R. Kelly and a popular "American Idol" contestant, the business would be basing lavish holidays on the pay-outs from those releases.
Bizarrely, though, what has anyone heard about these albums? Let's examine.
Michael Jackson, "Michael" (Epic)
The good news is that Michaeljackson.com has more than 25 million fans on Facebook. How many of those people will buy this collection remains to be seen, especially after all 10 tracks had leaked online the first week of December.
Jackson was no 2Pac or Jimi Hendrix -- there are not a lot of tapes resting in vaults, which means many of these songs border on ancient. "Much Too Soon," which was streamed for free for a week at iTunes Ping, was written at the time of "Thriller."
To get fans, the estate released 30 seconds of a video featuring Akon doing "Hold My Hand," a song they recorded in 2007, and Eddie Cascio, who met Michael when he was 3 years old (yikes!) and appears on three songs, appeared on "Oprah." 50 Cent, who raps on the track "Monster," worked on the song after Jackson died, but it was the late singer's intention to have Fitty on the song.
Meanwhile, R. Kelly, the man who wrote "You are Not Alone," has a new album, too, one that even references the Gloved One.
R. Kelly, "Love Letter" (Jive)
R. Kelly goes retro for all of "Love Letter," singing mostly about love instead of sex, setting women on pedestals instead of into bed. On "Number One Hit," he used Jackson as a metaphor, telling his love "You are my Michael Jackson 'Thriller.'" He performed "When a Woman Love" on Jimmy Fallon's show, which got a few bloggers to marvel at how well he can mine old-school soul. For fans who wonder how Kelly can write a Yuletide version of his "Love Letter" and not work in euphemistic references to unwrapping gifts, stocking stuffers and Christmas balls, there is "Taxi Cab," which is about more than a ride.
Crystal Bowersox, "Farmer's Daughter" (19/Jive)
She had it in the bag, you thought. Here was this wonderful singer, full of charm and spunk, with a great back story and a big heart. Faster than you could say "Adam Lambert," though, the shine came off the Crystal and she was relegated to second place behind the dullest of all "Idol" champs, Lee DeWyze, who sealed the deal a few weeks ago by stomping the record for lowest first week sales by an "AI" champ. All Crystal has to do is sell 40,000 copies of "Farmer's Daughter," and she proves America has a soft spot for her that's bigger than the black hole DeWyze occupies. Entertainment Weekly has called the album "genuine" but dull. She hits the talk show circuit, appearing on "Regis and Kelly," "Ellen DeGeneres Show" and "Chelsea Lately."