The night I attended my very first concert, Led Zeppelin was playing in town. That's where all my friends were, bathed in marijuana smoke and ten-minute guitar solos. The next day, they bragged about how great the concert was, and when they saw I didn't care, they added that a girl took off her top. They chided me for going to a teenybopper show instead of the great baby, baby, baby" machine, but I told them I'd do it again and again. At age 15, peer-group pressure is a powerful monarch, but there was no way I would miss the Jackson 5. For the past 20 years, my hobby has been defending Michael Jackson. He's the greatest entertainer of all time," I'd tell anyone who challenged his talent. If I had a nickel for every goose bump he's given me through the years with his sensational dancing and hair-curling vibrato, well, I could own the Beatles catalogue. The Elephant Man? His butt is mine. So intense was my appreciation for Michael that I once broke up with a girl because she said he sucked. You just can't trust someone who doesn't like Michael Jackson," I told myself. Those are the kind of people who give panhandlers Mexican coins and then laugh when they turn the corner. I had no tolerance for those who dwelled on the idiot and not the savant. Michael Jackson can touch his forehead with his heel; who cares if he can't tie his shoes? My loyalty to Michael Jackson has never wavered. Until now. I've endured Ben" and the Victory album and the sappy duets with Paul McCartney. I've shrugged while those around me were deriding the sleep chamber, Bubbles the chimp, the makeover, the selling of Revolution" to Nike and the sissy voice. I even liked the Jacksons when they went through their mid-'70s lounge-act phase, when they sat on stools and sang Danny Boy," followed by a patriotic medley. Michael's always been my main man. With the release of his new album Dangerous, however, I must admit that Michael's time as a creative giant is over.
In the annals of my life's disappointments, Dangerous ranks up there with the time I waited in line for six hours to get autographs from Aerosmith at a record store and only Brad Whitford and Tom Hamilton showed up.
My assessment of Dangerous may be in the minority. The buying public seems to like the record, as it debuted at No. 1 and has remained there for six consecutive weeks. Rolling Stone magazine, which has started to smell like the teen spirit of a music-industry cheerleader, gave Dangerous four and a half stars. I doubt if anyone is more overjoyed by the album than Quincy Jones, however. The man who put Michael in a tuxedo, both literally and musically, with Michael's comeback record Off the Wall, then helmed the 40-million-selling Thriller and the 14-million-selling Bad, was replaced on Dangerous by new-jack-swing leader Teddy Riley. Q must've laughed his ass off when he heard this faux funk. Where Jones' lush production weaved a brilliant aural tapestry, Dangerous sounds like a flea-market wall hanging of dogs playing cards.
Teddy Riley is to production what the microwave oven is to food preparation. He heats things up in a hurry, but smacks of artificiality. Though steam rises from the surface, the core of his sound is often cold. His forte is creating mindless dance floor grooves, so Michael lets him work out for the first six tracks on Dangerous. I haven't heard anything so devoid of soul since Kraftwerk, whose frigid bounce is duplicated live by robots. Even worse are Michael's bloated ballads, like Heal the World" and Keep the Faith." The man in the mirror has become the man with the mirror as Ol' New Eyes has simply copied his previous slow numbers. The main change is that Jackson doesn't sing like himself, clenching his words like he needs a vocal laxative. With synthesized calculation and whimpering concern, Michael sounds like he's trying to guess what's hip instead of shooting from the hip. The result is gruesome.
These days, Jackson's 33 years seem to be considered old for both gymnasts and pop stars. With MTV's constant bombardment of trends, and the revolving nature of public tastes, we've seen several established acts change their m.o.'s recently to appeal to younger audiences. Where Prince once questioned the musical talent of rappers, he incorporated hip-hop in Diamonds and Pearls and rebounded after the dismal sales of 1990's Graffiti Bridge. The members of Public Enemy, the wise uncles of rap, decided they needed a shot of fresh blood after Fear of a Black Planet failed to get much play on the streets, so they brought in a new production team. Subsequently, Apocalypse '91: The Enemy Strikes Black has become their highest-charting album to date. Other old-timers" trying to keep up with house music, rap and club MTV include Jody Watley, Heavy D. and the Boyz, INXS and Big Audio Dynamite II. Nowhere does this quest for the fountain of youth sound more desperate than with Michael Jackson's new record. We didn't wait five years for a Guy album.
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The first inkling that something was wrong in Jacksonville was when the Black or White" video debuted amid hoopla usually reserved for the Super Bowl or walls being torn down in Germany. Almost in response to critics who wondered if Jackson was still The King of Pop" (as he demanded to be referred to in exchange for the right to air the video), Michael was on more channels simultaneously than the Gulf War. All that was needed was CNN's Charles Jaco commenting on Jackson's glass-smashing finale to make the comparison complete.
Opening with a tired, generation-gap segment, ripped from an old Twisted Sister teen-angst anthem and featuring Macaulay Culkin and George Wendt, the John Landis-directed video got off to a bad start. With simplistic words set over a sing-song melody, the tune itself was almost as embarrassing as the images. How could this be the first single from a years-in-the-making recording from MJ? While Mikey sang You can be my baby/It don't matter if you're black or white," he contradicted his own Hallmark philosophizing by traipsing around in his new deeper shade of pale. I shrank in my Lazy Boy, especially when he sang Don't tell me you agree with me/When I saw you kicking dirt in my eye." That could be Michael's worst line since he sang Just look over your shoulders, honey" on the early hit I'll Be There." The most atrocious song on this entirely awful record is Give in to Me," which steals both the misogyny and melody line of Dirty Diana" to forge an ode to date rape. Don't try to understand me/Just simply do the things I say," Michael sings, then continues, Love is a feeling/Give it when I want it/'Cause I'm on fire/Quench my desire." Yuck. Who does Michael Jackson think he's fooling with his stud-boy poses? He's about as macho as Truman Capote. When Michael grabs his crotch, it can almost be considered slapstick. Why doesn't someone tell him that when he tries to come off as passionate he just looks silly? Just dance, brother, and leave the humping to Keith Sweat.
Besides its pedestrian grooves and vapid ballads, Dangerous is bad because it's dishonest. Its lyrics are pretentious and its sentiments laughable. It's as excessive as a Rod McKuen book of poetry with a velvet cover and gold-leaf pages. Calling this record Dangerous is like naming a poodle Tiger." I'm still glad I saw the Jackson 5 instead of Led Zeppelin, however.