Thursday 13 May 2021

Michael JACKSON: HIStory Past, Present and Future, Book I


(#529: 24 June 1995, 1 week)

Track listing:  Billie Jean/The Way You Make Me Feel/Black Or White/Rock With You/She's Out Of My Life/Bad/I Just Can't Stop Loving You/Man In The Mirror/Thriller/Beat It/The Girl Is Mine/Remember The Time/Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough/Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'/Heal The World/Scream/They Don't Care About Us/Stranger In Moscow/This Time Around/Earth Song/D.S./Money/Come Together/You Are Not Alone/Childhood (Theme From "Free Willy 2")/Tabloid Junkie/2 Bad/History/Little Susie/Smile


(Blogger's Note: This entry was written by Lena, with formatting, some minor editing and linking done by myself.)

Is fame a good thing? What on earth is it for, after a while? Is there a reason for it, to become so unstoppable, so tremendously powerful that you can do whatever you want to do, to whomsoever you want to do it, and no one, not even your father, could stop you? What does it feel to have that power – to hold it, wield it, enjoy it? What happens when you cross the line and discover there are, in fact, powers greater than you? 

It can be disconcerting, if not truly disturbing, to find that you, a near-legendary figure, have the feet of modest clay after all.  (“Sliding backwards really eventually was too far”). But what might upset Michael Jackson, were he alive now, was how he is now being treated by many – as a relic, his music from the '70s/'80s as the only playable radio hits, save for '90s chart shows.  How he is frozen in time,


I will not dodge the issue: the material which comprises the second disc of HIStory is in large part a reaction to this, and it is arguably the case that this whole album is one long exercise in saying that he is still the King of Pop, still the benevolent and generous patron of children, with testimonials from Steven Spielberg and Elizabeth Taylor and photos of him meeting Presidents and even pictures of yes, children, with "We Love You Michael" and "Michael Is The Best." 

And there he is on the cover, against stormy clouds and orange sunset light,'s not actually him.  It is one of the statues made in his likeness, much larger than life, perhaps even the one that was sent down the Thames on a barge in mid-June, so big the Tower Bridge had to be raised to let it through.  All this, before we even get to the music. It does not bode well, to say the least; and I will have to tiptoe through the album song by song. I listened to it with a profound unease. A track-by-track commentary follows:

Stop Pressurin' Me!

Jam and Lewis and two Jacksons, what could go wrong?  Well, "Scream" is perfectly serviceable but it feels less like a Michael song and more a Janet one, from 1989 perhaps. It is also him complaining about how he's going to go insane if all these lies don't stop. HMM. 


Tell Me, What Has Become Of My Rights?

Well at least it sort of sounds like Adam and The Ants. There is an offensive word in the lyrics that is strategically messed up so when you listen to the song, you don't hear it. Jackson is being so generous with us, giving us a whole album where his rights and the rights of others are conflated - to himself he is "us" and to a lot of people he was still "us" at this point. I wonder if the missing word refers to who "they" are though?  First appearance of a children's choir, likely not the last.

Swift And Sudden Fall From Grace

The best song on this album by far, where he seems to be coming to terms with something, or at least contemplating what that feeling would be like, if he were to actually try to really, you know, look at himself in the mirror. If only the whole album could have been as lyrically modest and musically interesting and quiet as this. But oh then what?

Somebody's Out, Somebody's Out To Get Me

Well at least The Notorious B.I.G. gets a look-in here in the vast tale of Then Play Long. It is too bad it had to happen this way though. Nothing like attacking someone less powerful than yourself, is there?

What About Us?

The only time I'm convinced Jackson is actually noticing that the rest of the world exists and is in need of help. So much of this is Statue Jackson feeling sorry for himself or putting his enemies down, when he logically has no reason to do so. I mean, what does he really have to complain about, he got the Super Bowl half-time show in '93, right? And he married Lisa Marie Presley. "Us" here includes Jackson, who really is trying his best.

Does He Send Letters To The FBI?

How dare Dom Sheldon prosecute only the most famous man in the world? HOW DARE HE!! The first instance of what I am going to call Trump Pop here, and sadly it won't be the last. I feel as if Jackson is just going to throw all his toys at me to get my sympathy. 

Where Do Your Loyalties Lie?

I should note here that due to the, uh, events of 1993, Pepsi dropped Jackson as its celebrity face, so to speak. You do wonder what would have happened if he had said 'no' to Pepsi in 1983 - I mean, besides Neil Young's not having to write "This Note's For You." 


One And One And One Is Three

This is just Jackson trolling The Beatles, really. This was recorded in 1988 and put on here as I guess it had to go somewhere. It is not as scary as the original, but in this context has a kind of "worship me" vibe that is so offhand as to be needing bread to get it off the plate.

"Badiou Are Not Alone"

If only this were a song about a French philosopher whose "burgers are the best." I mean, this is just a Venn diagram of sketch. It was a huge hit though, and goodness knows Jackson really needed one at this point. That he got it due to R. Kelly I will leave to your judgement. 

It's Been My Fate To Compensate
I sometimes do wonder if Jackson was allowed to just be a kid at all. But he is now thirty-six, and, harsh as it may seem, putting away childhood demons is something therapy exists for, if nothing else. It is a tough thing to say, but your "eccentricities" are your own and if Jackson decided to go with them and have them be his USP, then why go though therapy to be normal? When clearly, you are born to greatness?
Is what happened in 1993 just the inevitable end of such a decision? 

Then Why Do We Keep Fooling Ourselves?

A lot of people thought the whole 1993 thing was all a scam - "fake news" and this in turn lends this album a sense of unreality. To put it plainly - why make such a big deal of something if nothing bad actually happened? For a newlywed who has the world at his Statue Jackson feet, he spends a lot of time yelling at the void. Instead of dealing with what happened in an adult way, we get adolescent tantrums.

Hell All Up In Hollywood

And yes, here is Shaquille O'Neal to tell us how great MJ is!  It's a sequel to "Bad" but like so much of the music on this album, it is just...there, signifying whatever bad-assery there is left in Statue Jackson, which after this scandal is, hm, not so much. If it were as persuasive an album as Thriller then maybe things would be different. Jackson is trying to stuff the whole world into his gigantic head, but it's simply not working. 

Every Path You Take You're Leaving Your Legacy

This is the real Jackson trying to incorporate himself, almost literally write himself into history. It is not subtle - there is Dr. King, Edward Kennedy, Edison, Armstrong - no no NO I said, you cannot do this. There is someone always wanting to be in their imperial phase, to go above and beyond mere music into something world-historical. And this takes what is so lacking here: humility. Arrogant and cold, Statue Jackson has shown all along that he doesn't belong with the (notably all-male) list of soundclips.
One jumped out at me, one used by Single Gun Theory on the outro to their 1994 album Flow, River Of My Soul. The soundclip in question is Frank Borman's Christmas message from Apollo 8. And here are Jam and Lewis and Jackson making this Trump Pop song about achievement and motivation. I just wanted to start throwing things. Single Gun Theory knew what to do with it, at least.

Oh The Blood In Her Hair

Edgar Allan Poe — 'The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.'
This song is done as a waltz and it certainly brought this quote to mind. So slender, so lovely, so neglected and so very, very dead

You'll Find That Life Is Still Worthwhile

Is it worth it, the fame? The Statue Jackson seems to think so. But how about all these songs, so few of which get airplay now? The security is all in the first album, and there will be more Jackson anthologies to come in this tale. But for now we are stuck in the stalled car with Jackson ranting at the wheel, talking about how he's dedicating himself to the children, the children painted alongside him in their national costumes like it's Disney, no bad news, the album is dedicated to them, to the sick and dying....look at this, no look at this, the big thing, the military thing, the praise, I am good I am doing good, I am here, I am a real person....but if I did anything then you can smile, I mean what did I do really, nothing, grow up, I am only doing what I want to do and this is who I am so smile, smile and don't cry, smile and forget, smile and only remember years later when you read it in fiction, the man and the minor, but smile as it's only a story, read the lyrics that is the real thing, my version is the real version, art's like that, you are the object, the thing, the subject, you don't count, you're not even here, why did you do this to me, I did the bad thing and now you're angry but why, why why, I cannot account for my actions, so smile, you're still alive, you can still function, just avoid anything that reminds you, including yourself

So, is it still worth it?