Michael Jackson is closer than ever to losing his Neverland Valley Ranch.
Sources tell me that the refinancing of Jackson’s $300 million loan with Fortress Investment Group is getting closer, mostly thanks to the participation of Jackson’s primary business partner, Sony ATV Music Publishing. If a deal can be worked out, Barclay’s Bank would buy the loan from Fortress.
On the other hand, Sony, I am told, will not be getting involved in a separate loan Fortress made to Jackson for Neverland. That loan, under a Fortress entity called DBGC, is secured by Neverland for $23 million. On Oct. 22, as I first reported, Jackson defaulted on that loan. He has 90 days to pay the full amount or lose the property. The clock runs out for him on Jan. 19.
If Jackson doesn’t pay Fortress, Neverland would be sold at auction to the highest bidder. Of course, that bidder would have to deal with any other liens against the property. One known lien is being held by Marc Schaffel, Jackson’s former business partner.
Without Neverland to fall back on, Jackson technically would be homeless. He still owns his parents’ home in Encino, Calif., but it’s filled with relatives. Jackson also has a $4 million mortgage on that piece of property.
The former pop star is renting a home in the Washington, D.C., area close to his manager and publicist, Raymone Bain, whom many close to Jackson are holding responsible for getting him deeper into the current financial woes.
"Neverland is Raymone’s problem. Let her solve it," is the way one insider to the financial situation put it to me on Monday.
Here’s the first report/review of Alicia Keys’ third studio album, "As I Am," which was made available late Monday.
To say it’s spectacular is an understatement. Keys, 27, just six years in the music business, is one of the two or three reasons to even hope that pop has a future. Without her, Rob Thomas, John Legend and John Mayer, we would have to just pack up and go home.
But Keys is different. The 14 tracks on "As I Am" show a musical maturity and growth that are simply breathtaking. We can start by addressing "No One," the lead single, and No. 1 on all charts.
When it was released, "No One" sounded atonal and a little off-putting. But as it turns out, the repetitive piano and what sounds like an oompah pah tuba (we’re not sure if it’s real or synthesized) and disarming acoustic guitar give the track a tremendous anthem quality.
"No One" has surfaced as the surprise hit of the year. Released in time for the Grammy deadline (the album isn’t), "No One" may wind up winning a lot of last-minute awards.
The single was just the tip of the iceberg. When she debuted "If I Ain’t Got You" a couple of years ago, there was just an inkling that Alicia was about to take off as a superior songwriter.
On the new album, we have "Thing Called Love" (co-written with mega producer-writer Linda Perry) and a collaboration with partner Kerry Brothers on "Like You’ll Never See Me Again"-- outstanding ballads that not only secure her place in pop history but undoubtedly will reap a fortune if other artists are smart enough to cover them.
I heard Alicia play them at her Black Ball two weeks ago, so I know we’ll be seeing audiences singing along to both songs.
And there’s more: Alicia’s collaborated on another frighteningly good ballad, "Lesson Learned," with Mayer, who also contributes backup vocals. Their duet recalls the great old days of Carole King teaming with James Taylor back in the Paleolithic era of singer-songwriters from which both Keys and Mayer seem to channel their abilities.
But "As I Am" is not all about ballads. "Go Ahead," the album’s lead track (after a beautiful piano intro), is a rockin’, pounding R&B number that Keys should have no trouble using to start concerts.
"Teenage Love Affair" recalls '80s rapper Slick Rick’s "Teenage Love," but with a twist: Keys has written a new original song that on first hearing could be a solid-gold soul hit circa 1971. Considering she was only born in 1980, I’m still trying to figure out how she did that.
There are plenty more good tracks, and I’ll tell you more about them later this week. Suffice to say, by the time you get to the end number, "Sure Looks Good to Me," you’re not entirely unprepared for a finishing touch, a masterpiece co-written and produced by Perry that recalls some of the great album enders of the '70s and early '80s when albums still meant something.
A slow-building anthem, "Sure Looks Good" could have fit right onto Elton John’s "Captain Fantastic" or any one of several classic and beloved records.
And that’s what's so interesting about Keys. She is a throwback and at the same time utterly original. Like Thomas, her songs are so well-crafted that you think you may have heard them before because they hark back to a time when composition, atmosphere and emotion mattered in the creation of a record.
A new day and a new low for what remains of the Madonna-less Warner Music Group. Its stock finished the day at $9.47, then dipped within seven minutes in after-hours trading to $9.36.
A year ago, WMG was at $27.
In effect, the company has no value for outside investors. Whatever the insiders have made — millions upon millions — was for them and had nothing to do with the music industry, the record business or recording artists. How very strange, you might think. But it’s 2007.
It’s very naïve, perhaps, to think Edgar Bronfman Jr. and Lyor Cohen had any interest in having a record company. They just wanted money.
Where does that leave WMG? Aside from the still-beating little heart of Atlantic Records and the catalog company, Rhino, hidden within it, there’s nothing. If Atlantic weren’t doing business, WMG would cease to function at all. And even then, Atlantic is on its last legs, using Matchbox Twenty’s greatest hits and the not-so-new-anymore Kid Rock album to prop itself up for the holiday season.