December 10, 2010 / 12:18 AM / in 7 years

Critics say Michael Jackson album better than feared

<p>A card with a photograph of late entertainer Michael Jackson is placed among flowers during an event to commemorate the first anniversary of his death, in Leipzig, June 25, 2010. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch</p>

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A sentimental video for Michael Jackson’s new single “Hold My Hand” was released on Thursday as music critics paid grudging respect to the first album of new Jackson material since his death 18 months ago.

Heart-tugging clips from the King of Pop’s performance archive, mixed with children singing and multicultural images of happiness, mark the four-minute music video for “Hold My Hand” -- a duet recorded with R&B singer and producer Akon in 2007 that is the first official single on the album “Michael”.

It was released on Jackson’s official website, www.michaeljackson.com, ahead of the December 14 debut of “Michael” -- a collection of 10 songs completed by various record producers after the singer’s sudden death in June 2009 due to an overdose of the anesthetic propofol and other drugs.

Despite media skepticism and some dissent within Jackson family ranks, early reviews largely found “Michael” better than expected, if below the perfectionist standards the “Thriller” singer might have wished for.

“He would not have released anything like this compilation, a grab bag of outtakes and outlines assembled by Jackson’s (Sony) record label,” said Rolling Stone. But the magazine acknowledged that the songs were recognizably Jackson songs, adding that “‘Michael’ can be compelling.”

USA Today said the collection of ballads, dance songs and R&B tracks, including collaborations with rapper 50 Cent and rocker Lenny Kravitz, “is a credible musical effort that can’t be dismissed” and contained a few treasures.

Entertainment Weekly awarded the album a “B”, calling it “certainly no great affront to his name”, while The New York Times said it was a “miscellany of familiar Jackson offerings: inspirational, loving, resentful and paranoid.”

Opinion in Britain -- where Jackson had planned a series of 50 comeback concerts in the summer of 2009 -- was generally more enthusiastic.

Music website NME.com said the track “Behind the Mask” was “an absolute revelation” on which “Jackson howls a solid-gold melody at his fearsome best.”

Telegraph newspaper critic Neil McCormick said Jackson “bursts with verve and confidence” and said the album “may well be Jackson’s best work since his Eighties glory days.”

“It is certainly a great deal better than anyone had the right to expect...Jackson is finally about to get the comeback he craved,” McCormick wrote.

“Michael” is the first album of new Jackson material since his disappointing “Invincible” in 2001, and the first in a $250 million deal between Sony and the executors of Jackson’s estate to release 10 albums of new material through 2017.

Jackson’s physician at the time of his death, Dr. Conrad Murray, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, and he has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte

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