By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
The worst thing we could've done to Michael Jackson was to buy 40 million copies of Thriller. Up until that record-breaking point, Jackson was an entertainer celebrated solely for his artistry, not for his bizarre behavior or his rapidly deteriorating face. Before 1982, if you spotted him in a tabloid, it was probably because he was standing behind Diana Ross at some awards function. A 14-year show-biz veteran at age 24, Jackson was still surpassing his audience's expectations in 1982, largely because we saw only a smidgen of what he was capable of during his years at Motown and as a member of the Jacksons.
Had he not become so greedy or publicity hungry, the Gloved One could've continued to progress from album to album as Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder did before him. Yet the world was never afforded a glimpse of a more mature Jackson--Thriller stunted his growth worse than a carton of cigarettes a day might've.
Thirteen years later, with the release of HIStory--Past, Present and Future, Book 1, Jackson still seems determined to cling to his badly tarnished Peter Pan image, the magical boy king who prefers the company of children and chimps to adults. Unless said adults happen to have a degree in plastic surgery.
HIStory was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Jackson to reinvent himself and erase all previous images, an opportunity he's sadly squandered. Had the album of new material that comprises disc two of HIStory been packaged separately (disc one is a greatest-hits collection), Jackson could have concocted a new Jackson look, like Madonna does with every release. Heck, he could've grown a mustache and sideburns like the Beatles did for Sgt. Pepper and gotten just as many headlines as he did by marrying Lisa Marie. But open up the 52-page booklet, and it's those same tired shots of Jackson with Bubbles, Liz Taylor and Sgt. Pepper epaulets we're bombarded with.
After all the child-molestation charges and his sudden marriage/merger to Elvis' daughter, one could make an argument that Jackson's album was one of the most eagerly anticipated releases since Sgt. Pepper itself, albeit for a completely different set of reasons. Six months before the Beatles dropped the big one on the pop world, they issued A Collection of Beatles Oldies in England, but try imagining the Fabs doing something as ludicrous as pairing a milestone in their career with a bunch of old hits like "She Loves You" and "Yesterday."
Yet that's exactly what Jacko's done here. In cold terms, he's jacked up the price of his latest album by $12 and forced you to buy a greatest-hits collection you don't need in order to hear his new music. Ever since his brothers charged $30 a ticket on the 1984 Victory tour, he's been vulnerable to cries of rip-off from press and public alike. Now, with the bizarre packaging of HIStory, Jackson seems even more preoccupied with moving units than people's hearts.
What diehard Jackson fan doesn't already own Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad or Dangerous? Jackson's advisers must've figured the only way to surpass Thriller was to remix and repackage it. In all fairness, only five of Thriller's ten tracks are repeated for HIStory, but you're talking about five songs 40 million people already own.
This idea of a Michael Jackson greatest-hits package actually has been kicking around since 1989, although then the proposed collection was called Decade. The album would've had only four new songs, including this set's cover of the Beatles' "Come Together," some of the Jacksons' hits, "Somewhere in the Dark," the song he did for that E.T. album which is still unavailable on CD, plus a pair of unreleased Motown tracks. Jackson's pal David Geffen advised him that this album was a bad idea, since the music he would've included spanned more than a decade and might convince people that Jackson's math was worse than his already celebrated bad spelling.
Jackson doesn't do exclusive TV interviews anymore without a 15-minute historical infomercial to remind us that, yes, this Casper the Friendly Ghost look-alike was once of African descent and a member of the beloved Jackson Five before he got weird on us. Consider disc one that 71-minute and 39-second infomercial and little more.
If only it ended there. Jackson feels it's also necessary to solicit several character witnesses to testify in his good name. The first bit of hyperbole in the 52-page HIStory booklet comes courtesy of Liz Taylor, who writes, "I think he is one of the finest people to hit this planet, and, in my estimation, he is the true King of Pop, Rock and Soul." She's been married, what, nine times? Ol' Liz is hardly a credible judge of character. Later in the booklet, that quote gets repeated, along with a picture of Liz from Cleopatra, with Jackson's head grafted on the body of Liz's dead ex-husband, Richard Burton. Oddly enough, Burton's hands look too dark to be Jackson's. Oh, well, Liz must've been under heavy back medication when she signed that release.
Following Liz's lead-in are testimonials from Jackie Onassis and Steven Spielberg. And Spielberg's already retracted his. Who could blame him, in light of Jackson's use of the words "kike" and "sue me, Jew me" found in "They Don't Care About Us"? "I can't wait to see where he takes us next," the Schindler's List director wrote back when he thought this was just going to be a collection of previously released material. How could he know E.T.'s little pal was going to metamorphose into Der Fhrer of Pop?