Album Reviews


Michael Jackson

HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I

RS: 4of 5 Stars Average User Rating: 4.5of 5 Stars


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A decade after "thriller" and MTV transformed pop, Michael Jackson releases a collection that combines a classic greatest-hits anthology with a jarring and uneven new album. Throughout HIStory we're reminded of the Michael Jackson who helped groove music go mainstream with Off the Wall, fused high-tech New Wave and Caribbean rhythms with the aid of producer Quincy Jones on Thriller and Bad, and communed with trancelike '90s soul and New Jack Swing inventor Teddy Riley on 1991's underpraised Dangerous. A decade after Thriller, Jackson's still the same: the apolitical universalist who never shared the hip-hop generation's politics, the pop figurehead who bends the latest mass flavors to his creative will, the Spielbergian artist tycoon who's drawn to Old Hollywood glamour and New Hollywood balance sheets. He still wants to be the King of Pop and to be left alone.

And now, Jackson is more embattled than ever, as the furor over the epithet slinging of "They Don't Care About Us," a new track from HIStory, demonstrates. In the past, Jackson's albums defined their pop surroundings so a fan could hear past their oddness. HIStory doesn't offer that option; these days, whiz-bang Thriller-style kicks exist more on computer screens than on radios. Instead of ignoring his troubles or attacking them from interesting angles, Jackson obsesses on his woes, an eager participant in today's talk-show din of personal confession. He's angry, miserable, tortured, inflammatory, furious about what he calls, in "Stranger in Moscow," a "swift and sudden fall from grace."

Some of the new songs – the excellent current single "Scream" or the first-rate R&B; ballad "You Are Not Alone" – manage to link the incidents of Jackson's infamous recent past to universal concepts like injustice or isolation. When he bases his music in the bluntness of hip-hop, Jackson sketches funky scenarios denouncing greed, blanket unreliability and false accusation. HIStory unfolds in Jackson's outraged response to everything he has encountered in the last year or so. It makes for an odd, charmless second chapter to a first that includes miraculous recordings like "Billie Jean," "The Way You Make Me Feel," "Black or White" and "Beat It."

Without Quincy Jones around to give HIStory the rich unity of Thriller and Bad or even a producer-composer like Teddy Riley to bestow his variations of ongoing style, the new album really jerks you around. It goes from four collaborations with the peerless Minneapolis fusionists Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to tracks done by Jackson himself to a couple of loudly unmusical David Foster productions to one dynamite jam ("This Time Around") done with Atlanta R&B; hotshot Dallas Austin that's ripe for remixes.

"Scream" and "Tabloid Junkie," two adventurous Jam and Lewis thumpers, work completely: Jackson's slippery voice is caught in mammoth funk-rock constructions. They're reminiscent of Janet Jackson's hits, in which Jam and Lewis allow space for lush vocal harmonies taken from the Triumph-era Jacksons; the choruses of "Tabloid Junkie" in particular sing out with quick-voiced warnings about the failings of media truth.

But the bulk of HIStory doesn't feel as contemporary as the "Scream" video, in which Michael and his sister Janet jump around like '90s fashion kids trapped in a spaceship stolen from a Barbarella film set. With its silly heraldic cover painting and theme-park title piece, HIStory feels like the work of someone with a bad case of Thriller nostalgia. Occasionally this backward focus works to Jackson's advantage: On "Stranger in Moscow" he remembers the synth-pop '80s while constructing wracked claims of danger and loneliness that rival any Seattle rocker's p??in.

More often, this strategy backfires. Jackson seems desperate for the days when he ruled, when doing a Beatles cover like this album's "Come Together" would have equaled a nod to preceding royalty. Now it reveals the downside of Jackson's HIStory defense, which is plain old superstar ego. The slow blues-operatic "Earth Song" for all its noble sentiments, sounds primarily like a showpiece – something with which to knock 'em dead in Monte Carlo. And uncut Hollywood fluff like "Childhood," "Little Susie" and the climactic version of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" has zero point of view on itself; its blend of rampaging ego and static orchestral pop is a Streisand-size mistake. What it's doing on an album with Dallas Austin and Jam and Lewis is anyone's guess. But then that's the story of this exhilarating, misconceived, often heartbreaking package. HIStory's ultimate goal is to position Michael Jackson's music as a planet, a genre, a law, a marketing budget unto itself. As time passes and singles break, maybe those superhuman plans will touch back down on earth.


(Posted: Aug 10, 1995)


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Review 1 of 1

Karle writes:

4of 5 Stars

History represents Michael Jacksons msic after being on the peak since the release of thriller 1982. What happened then and in between is documented well on the first disc so what about the second disc that aims to move the artist forward. yes the album is very personal but how couldnt it be knowing the trials of child abuse etc. this will affect the individual and so we have d.s which is a personal attack on the prosecutor which planned to throw him in jail. however michael has a brand of music that is his own and this is documented well in the secnd disc. The variety on this disc is what gives this album the edge on his personal tirades. in my opinion the variety on this particular album demonstrates michaels superior vocal skills in comparison with other n\mundane singers who depend primarily on soaring vocals, like a whitney houston, mariah carey and celine dion. these artists dont realise that even with soaring vocals they sound best when subdued, restrained. the variety on history is endless. check out the refrain on Stranger in moscow and it concluding moments that have a cinematic edge like Little Susie. the fury on scream and they dont care about us which is typical michael. Soaring notes present on You are not alone and Smile. the almost conversation art of singing present on Money and tabloid Junkie. Michael Jackson is a vocal giant. Let us forget his intentions of revitalizing his career for he is obviously angry on this album and employs the edge with rapping by the notorious Big just fresh from ready to die. therefore for the rolling stone reviewer to say that he never shared th hip hops generations politics is a mistake. Check out the introductions for 2bad, the R&B ballad you are not alone and the fury on they dont care about us which is heavily influenced by the rodney king incident. History probably did not do as well in sales because Michael was not the universalist typical in tracks such as Heal the World. A song like that underpraised the harsh realities of personal existence. now you should listen to Earth Song. Here Michael is more focused on personal trials rather than the simplistic, ambitious tendencies associated with lighthearted pop that garnered him sales unsurpassed by none. on the thriller cd i do admit that he reached near perfection in balancing the personal with Universal tendencies. focusing on personal trials on thriller such as billie jean helped to make the sitution universal appreciated by many men worlwide ecause the sitution was personal. It seems as if Michael goes for that edge here on history and does not quite succeed because he seems more troubled on tracks such as d.s or this time around which is more of a theme for a rapper who claims that death is around the corner like tupac. the tone of the album makes it seem that this will appeal more to the hip hop generation. however it is because he positioned himself as a universalist that people wont understand the tirade on d. s. Michael understates his theme with thumping beats so that he can pursue the lyrics with a fury. In Billie jean you will see that the music was instrumental in carrying the message and here on history it does not carry the message through quite so successfully. It succeeds on Stranger in Moscow, Scream and You are Not Alone but falls short on Tabloid Junkie for instance or Childhood. not even the video would help childhood. vocally i appreciate the direction that michael has taken and even some of his personal tirades can be enjoyed especially the shot at te end of d. s. the follow up to this album Blood n the Dance Floor is a good follow up and shows the direction that History planned to take. Discussions on reality which is highly influenced by the fact that michael expereinced a dose of reality. it happened to tupac so we should expect the same for michael. 'Dont you black or white me'. where black and white in 1991 was a nice 'i took my baby on a saturday bang.'

Jun 6, 2008 19:02:32

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