My OPINION on the Cascio tracks, and how I reached it: By Charles Thomson
When Breaking News first dropped and the fans were hysterical, posting all over the internet that the vocals were fake, I couldn’t bring myself to believe it. Not because of any particular loyalty to the Estate and certainly not because of any particular loyalty to Sony. Put simply, I couldn’t get my head around the fact that such an enormous fraud was possible.
Why would either party take such an enormous risk? If it came out, it’d be the biggest humiliation in Sony’s history. The financial ramifications would be extraordinary. Every fan with a copy would demand a refund. Tens or hundreds of thousands of CDs would have to be recalled. What would be the point?
Everybody knew that Michael Jackson left a wealth of unreleased material behind when he died. Why take such a gamble on releasing fake songs with so many real ones in the vault?
But something niggled. The vocals didn’t sound right. The odd exclamation or hiccup sounded convincing, but for the most point the vocal was off kilter. The falsetto wasn’t the one we were used to. Michael’s pronunciation was off. The vibrato didn’t sound like his. But the song was badly produced enough that it was really difficult to tell either way and there were enough tiny snippets of legitimate Jackson vocals pasted in from other songs that I continued to tell myself: ‘They can’t have released fake tracks. It’s just too insane.’
Nonetheless, the fans’ anger showed no signs of calming. Especially not when the other two tracks hit the public domain. Breaking News might just have passed for a Michael Jackson track if people weren’t paying close attention, but Monster and Keep Your Head Up sounded nothing like him. The phrasing, the pitch, the falsetto, the vibrato, the accent – it was all wrong. It just didn’t sound like Michael Jackson.
On top of all that, the songs were appalling. Would Michael Jackson really lend himself to a song as feeble as Monster? Would he really demean himself in such a way? Would he really waste his talent on nonsensical lyrics like, ‘Mama say mama got you in a zig-zag’? It was a hard pill to swallow. Still, though, I kept saying to myself: ‘How would they get away with such a fraud? And why bother?’
Nonetheless, it wasn’t just fans who questioned the vocals. Several members of Jackson’s family, including his children, were firm in their belief that the songs were fraudulent. So were others close to the star.
Jennifer Batten, who toured with Jackson for 10 years, hearing him rehearse and perform live on a daily basis for months at a time, said the tracks didn’t sound like him.
Rodney Jerkins, who recorded Jackson’s final album, said the vocals didn’t sound like him. Cory Rooney, who also worked on that album, said the tracks didn’t sound like him.
Chucky Klapow, present at Jackson’s final live vocal rehearsals, said the vocals didn’t sound like Jackson. Karen Faye, also present at Jackson’s final live vocal rehearsals, publicly stated that the vocals didn’t sound like Jackson.
The first strong doubt hit me when J Randy Taraborrelli was invited to interview the Estate for TV and print. The interview was organised in response to the vocal controversy – but it raised more questions than it answered.
The Estate told JRT that after the Michael album, it had 17 more unreleased tracks which were good enough for release. Just 17. Everybody Jackson ever worked with attests to the fact that he over-recorded, producing dozens of songs per album. Where all that music has disappeared to is a mystery – perhaps they just can’t find them, perhaps they were stolen, perhaps there are tonnes but they aren’t good enough for release.
The salient information, though, is that in that interview, the Estate said it had just 17. That, presumably, included the remaining nine Cascio tracks.
Far from combating the vocal scandal, the interview gave credence to the conspiracy theory. The biggest counter-question to the fake vocal claims was, ‘What would be the point of putting out fake tracks?’ The logical answer now seemed apparent: because there’s a shortfall of real ones.
By now, voice comparison clips were cropping up all over YouTube, comparing the vocals on the Cascio tracks to Michael Jackson’s vocals and then to Jason Malachi’s. The accent, the falsetto, the vibrato – to the naked ear they all differed from Jackson’s enormously, but appeared to match Malachi’s exactly.
Those clips were yanked down usually within an hour of being uploaded, while hundreds of thousands of other Michael Jackson videos, also uploaded without copyright consent, remained online. Somebody seemed intent on suppressing them.
Before long, Jason Malachi’s long-time producer Tony Kurtis came forward to expose what he felt was a terrible injustice.
“This record is not Michael,” he wrote online. “If I knew how to get in contact with his family, I would, ’cause this is really wrong… It is Jason, based on me working with him, training him and knowing his voice… The songs are fake.
“This recording is not [Michael]… Michael’s kids are right: that’s not daddy’s voice, as they said… I can pick Jason voice out of 50 voices playing at the same time… I [produced] the Jason Malachi records, which is why I know the vocals are him.
“I recorded [with Jason] for 10 years off and on. We could never get him as tight as Michael, ’cause Michael can really sing. Jason is tone deaf… MJ vibrato isn’t as fast as Jason’s, plus Jason over uses his. Michael can really sing; he don’t use it as much… A two-year-old can hear that this is the same person.”
As the pressure on the Estate mounted, lots of claims began to leak out. The Estate, by the way, is run by two men: John Branca and John McClain. One half of the Estate – John McClain – was very clear in his stance on the Cascio tracks: He believed they were fake. Fans often throw their weight behind the Estate where this issue is concerned, apparently forgetting that the Estate itself is divided.
Nonetheless, the Estate began making assertions both directly and via gossip columnists. There were pictures and videos of Jackson in the studio recording the Cascio tracks, fans were told. There were handwritten lyrics. Besides, voice analysis comparisons had been carried out and proved the vocals were Jackson’s.
The controversy rumbled on and the album’s sales suffered badly. The collection didn’t chart spectacularly and fell from view with lightning speed. Such was the pitiful response that the Estate was forced to put out fluff-statements about how the album was the year’s ‘most shipped’. All that meant was that shops all over the world were lumbered with countless copies of an album which they couldn’t shift. Within just a few months of release, you could pick it up in any UK branch of HMV for the bargain bin price of £3.
The answer to the Estate’s album woes seemed clear to me. If the Estate had all this proof, it should just release it. But every time it was challenged to do so, it declined, offering up pitiful excuses such as that it didn’t want to drag innocent (and extortionately expensive) forensic audiologists into the limelight.
The Estate’s next move, rather than release any actual proof, was to release a statement containing the names of several industry players who had apparently attended a meeting and confirmed that the vocals were Jackson’s.
But within hours of the statement’s release, people from inside the meeting blasted the statement as a fabrication.
They included Cory Rooney, who worked on Jackson’s Invincible album and is highly-respected by much of the star’s fanbase thanks to a number of insightful interviews given after Jackson’s death.
Rooney said: “I have read the statement from the MJ Estate, and I have to say that it’s just more bullshit! I was in that room, and the majority of the people mentioned did not agree that it was MJ! Some felt it sounded like him, but all agree that there was nothing there that was consistent with any MJ habits like finger snaps, headphone bleeding, foot stomping or just simple things like his voice asking for another take.”
(The Cascios claim they deleted all Jackson’s outtake vocals to make space on a hard drive. Yes. Really.)
Rooney continued: “Both Dr. Freeze and Teddy Riley sat with Taryll Jackson and myself and stated that they felt what we felt. As for the specialists that were brought in, I don’t think anyone from the actual Jackson family got any direct confirmation that made them feel any different then what they have felt all along.”
Rooney’s comments were supported by an interview with Quincy Jones. The Estate statement claimed Jones had confirmed the vocals were Jacksons, but in an interview with Roger Friedman he repeatedly stated that he hadn’t been able to tell either way.
Pro-Estate/Cascio fans often point to the number of alleged participants in the meeting who have never come forward to deny that they endorsed the tracks, apparently failing to make the connection between the fact that all of these people work in the music industry and might have a very good reason not to want to piss off the world’s biggest record label.
My response to them is: What does Cory Rooney get out of challenging the statement? Money? No. Fame? No. The only tangible consequence would be that he would effectively burn any bridges he might have with Sony, which would be ultimately detrimental to his career. In short, Rooney has no reason to challenge the label, but the others have very good reasons not to.
Two months after the album’s release, fans were informed that the Cascios would appear on Oprah and present proof that the songs were real. I tuned in. The Cascios chatted for a while. Then it was the end. The failed to present any proof of the songs’ veracity whatsoever.
It was at this point that I just accepted the so-called proof simply did not exist.
Excuses were still forthcoming. Teddy Riley claimed the vocals sounded odd because he had used melodyne on Jackson’s voice. Fans quickly rebuffed this claim by posting their own clips of Jackson’s voice, melodyned into oblivion – lo’ and behold: it still sounded like Michael Jackson. Melodyne might explain a change in pitch, but not a change in accent or vibrato.
Former Jason Malachi producer echoed this sentiment. He wrote: “I am saying as a sound expert this recording is without a doubt Jason Cupeta. …They pitched the vocals to try and make [Jason] sound more like Michael. I have Michael Jackson a cappella vocals, as well. You can pitch MJ vocals all day; they won’t sound anything like [Breaking News].”
Similarly, the Cascios – by now having abandoned any premise that they would present ‘proof’ that the songs were real – began offering all manner of insane explanations as to why Jackson’s vocals sounded weird, from that he’d sung them through a cardboard tube to that he’d sung them in a shower.
Again, this may account for a change in the sound of Jackson’s voice, but not his accent or vibrato.
Moreover, the posthumous album included one Jackson track recorded just months before he died – Best Of Joy. In the track, his voice sounds the same as it ever did. Why would it suddenly change for the Cascio tracks, then suddenly revert back again for Best Of Joy? None of it made any sense.
Other collaborators – professional musicians – worked with Jackson for a year or more and produced two to four tracks. The Cascios claimed to have worked with Jackson for three months and recorded an entire album.
There were also chronological issues with the tracks. They claimed all 12 tracks were co-written with Jackson, but one – Soldier Boy – had already been written and registered a year before the alleged recording sessions.
With the evidence stacking up against the Cascio tracks, the Estate still failed to produce a single shred of evidence as to the tracks’ authenticity. To date, this remains the case.
Put yourself in Sony/the Estate’s shoes. Huge swathes of the fan community are boycotting the album. It doesn’t chart spectacularly and disappears from view pretty quickly. The main topic on every fansite (except the ones which censor it) is the veracity of the vocals on the Cascio tracks.
Newspapers and magazines and TV shows are questioning their authenticity. You, the Estate, have proof that they’re all wrong. You have voice analysis. You have pictures or videos or handwritten lyrics.
Why wouldn’t you release them?
It’s a no-brainer. If the album is suffering, and you have proof at your fingertips which can end it once and for all, you release it. It’s not even arguable. You would release the proof. All it can do is help you.
If the Estate had proof, we’d have seen it by now. It’s as simple as that.
The favourite get-out clause of the fans who support the Estate and the Cascio tracks – some of whom I believe to be paid by the Estate – is that until the doubters produce concrete proof that the tracks are fake, their claims are without basis.
The content of this tweet alone, which doesn’t even begin to scrape the surface, is more than enough proof that, at the very least, the claims are not without basis.
Besides, those fans miss the point.
When somebody steps forward with a collection of apparently unreleased Michael Jackson songs, conveniently copyrighted just two days after his death and recorded without the knowledge of anybody on Jackson’s payroll, the onus is not on anybody else to prove that the tracks are fake. It is on the vendors to prove that the tracks are real.
In the case of the Cascio tracks, nobody has ever been able to do so. Proof has been promised time and again, but it has never materialised.
If I were to announce tomorrow that I was the custodian of 12 tracks Michael Jackson had secretly recorded in my shower through a cardboard tube, the onus would be on me to prove that the tracks were real. Why were the Cascio tracks not placed under the same scrutiny?
There is no known evidence in existence which remotely connects Jackson to any of the 12 tracks the Cascios claim he co-wrote and recorded.
On the other hand, there are significant factors which undermine any claim of Jackson’s involvement: The fact that at least one song was written a year before the sessions, the fact that the vocals sound nothing like Jackson, the fact that all the outtake vocals were ‘deleted’, the fact that the promised photos and videos never materialised, the fact that Jackson’s apparent prolific work rate was completely at odds with other collaborators’ contemporaneous experiences… and so on.
I defy any right-thinking individual to take all of this information and claim that there isn’t reasonable doubt as to the tracks’ authenticity. And I question the motives of those who blindly promote the tracks in the face of all this evidence, and the wealth of other evidence which I didn’t include in this tweet.