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Class ?

Main Category: Dance Pop
Also applicable: Funk/R'n'B, Soul Music
Starting Period: The Interim Years
Also active in: The Punk/New Wave Years, The Divided Eighties,

From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Michael Jackson fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Michael Jackson fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1979
Overall rating =

The Anti-Clash of its generation. More moving, less thinking!


Track listing: 1) Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough; 2) Rock With You; 3) Working Day And Night; 4) Get On The Floor; 5) Off The Wall; 6) Girlfriend; 7) She's Out Of My Life; 8) I Can't Help It; 9) It's The Falling In Love; 10) Burn This Disco Out.

Ah, those legs. There was a time, you know, when those legs actually caused more sensation than that nose. (For the record, the upper part of that body is also somewhere out there, but who the heck cares about the upper part? Billy Jean certainly don't). But from now on, I will try to bite into my sleeve and refrain from commenting on the destructive impact Michael Jackson's music had on Michael Jackson - not only because such things should be reserved to the overall introduction, but also because too many articles on Michael Jackson just use the actual music as a pretext for bashing the miserable King of Pop for the umpteenth time. And, let's face it, Mr Jackson is hardly more evil than your average rock star - he's just more popular, and no, that's not really the same thing.

Now first of all, it must be noted that throughout his "serious" post-Jackson Five, post-Ben, post-Wizard Of Oz solo career, Michael has been pretty consistent - after all, there should have been something to the fact that he only released something like five or six albums in two decades, when he could have easily churned out gazillions of half-assed records instead (like almost every aspiring R'n'B star actually did). This, among other factors, is an important explanation for his success: he's one of the few R'n'B artists who can be thought of in terms of hit albums rather than hit singles. When we remember Whitney Houston, we say 'I'm Your Baby Tonight' or 'that song from The Bodyguard'; when we remember Jacko, we say Thriller. Or, if we're reaching far enough - Off The Wall.

Off The Wall was Michael's very first 'independent' album, produced by his trusty wizard Quincy Jones and intended to present Mr Jackson The Fifth as the hippest of all the dance stars out there. Sure the Bee Gees can do disco, but do they have these legs? They don't, and it's important, because when you're listening to Off The Wall material, you can practically watch these legs in action. And besides, who ever said the Bee Gees are the only guys to excel at disco music? They aren't. They're friggin' white! They don't have it in their blood! Leave disco to black people! Let them have it! And then put them all back to work on cotton farms.

Okay, that silly mock-racist comment wasn't funny - the important thing here is, there isn't really any obligatory reason for the Bee Gees or any other white band to do disco worse than black artists do it, but Off The Wall certainly gives Saturday Night Fever quite a bit of competition. Michael is in full creative control here, writing a large chunk of the songs himself and taking cues from Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder as well as (occasionally) corporate songwriters. That said, Off The Wall is certainly just the 'beginning' of the road - its crucial and cardinal difference from Thriller and all that followed is that it has no pretentions. It's just a not-little-any-more Michael Jackson singing a couple sappy ballads and a bunch of dance-oriented pop songs, mostly disco ones. That's IT. No super-duper overproduced arrangements, no social topics, no breath-holding thrillers, no menacing intonations, nothing of the sort; it's Jackson "the humble artist". Some actually prefer him this way, claiming that this was still a stage when 'everything was about the music', and thus proclaim Off The Wall to be Michael's best album; others say Off The Wall is too 'slight' (though they're actually in the minority); and I, as usual, sucker up to everybody and whine about there being a bit of truth in each and every statement.

Not that I really care - it doesn't bother me much if Michael's albums are overproduced or underproduced, and few things could be less significant to me than the 'social messages' of his later albums, whether they are present or not. Actually, Off The Wall is almost defiantly free of "social orientation": it's so drastically grounded in that crystal-ball hush-lush fantasy world of cheap romance and reckless hedonism that you could, in fact, regard all of Michael's ensuing recording career as one big (and only partially successful) attempt to atone for his sins, with everything from 'Beat It' to 'We Are The World' to 'Earth Song' to 'Black & White' serving that purpose. (Certainly lines like 'gotta leave that nine to five upon the shelf and just enjoy yourself' from the title track do not fit - they are socially oriented, in that they're supposed to appeal to the characters of Saturday Night Fever and all, but... well, need I really continue?).

Fact is, this is late Seventies dance music, typical late Seventies dance music, if you get my drift. Crystal clear disco bass, generic orchestration in the background, falsetto vocal harmonies, repetitive song structures and all. And the problem with dance music is that a whole album of dance music is difficult to sit through unless you use it in a you-know-what kind of place. Most of these songs are rather well-written, and the fact that four of them went on to become near-smash hits doesn't sound particularly undeserved (even if I'd far prefer, say, Fear Of Music yielding four smash hits instead. Okay, so let me dream on a minute, willya?). Individually, I don't have any problems with them; it's when they come out at you in a straight line, one after one, that they all start merging with each other.

Still, 'Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough' gotta qualify as one of the greatest "professionally-written" songs of the disco era - along with, you know, 'Stayin' Alive' and ABBA's 'Lay All Your Love On Me', although it hardly reaches the true creative peak of disco (that'd be the Stones' 'Miss You', I guess, and all those treasurable Ian Dury records, and maybe something by Chic that I still haven't heard, but certainly not anything by Donna Summer or Gloria Gaynor). The chorus is catchy, the groove is hot, what else do you want? It's nice, in fact, that the two most invigorating numbers on the record open it and close it - the second is Rod Templeton's 'Burn This Disco Out', which is nowhere near as memorable but every bit as energetic.

Michael himself contributes stuff like 'Working Day And Night', a fun ditty about how his gal makes him work so much he's starting to doubt his love that features some exciting guitarwork in the midsection (the ditty, I mean, not Michael's love), and the somewhat more formulaic and forgettable 'Get On The Floor', with vocals mixed so deeply in the background it doesn't convey any kind of intimate feeling. Then again, what the heck, it's Michael Jackson we're talking about, not Bob Dylan. And speaking of intimate feelings, I'm still not sure what to do with 'She's Out Of My Life', Michael's main ballad showlight on the album. It's one of those cases where I'm afraid to make a final decision because on one hand, it sounds like a pretty sterile and boring adult contemporary thingie with fake overdriven vocals, but, on the other hand, there are rumours that Michael was actually being sincere when he recorded that stuff (lamenting a lost girlfriend), and even burst into tears as he ended recording it (and you can actually hear his voice quivering and shaking at the last notes and a few subdued 'sniffs' at the end), which radically changes the picture. In any case, sincere or not, in terms of melody the song itself is pretty dull - tons worse than Michael's inspired cover of McCartney's 'Girlfriend', although the latter suffers, too, because for unknown reasons Michael tossed out the 'till the river starts to flow...' section that added an entire new dimension to Paul's original on London Town.

Okay then. The other songs are good, too. I like 'Rock With You' because it sounds like 'Get On The Floor', but better (and if you thought that wasn't a profound thought, you go ahead and describe the differences between these songs! I don't get PAID for that, you know), and Stevie Wonder's 'I Can't Help It' is pretty catchy, although I'd rather hear that other Stevie Wonder, you know. Heck, I like everything, I just can't give this record a rating higher than 11, just because it's so ridiculously dated to its epoch. Thriller actually manages to escape its time capsule - Off The Wall doesn't. It's too closely associated with polyester and the crystal ball for me.



Year Of Release: 1982

I guess it's fair to say that for an awful lot of people, it was really Thriller that set off the Eighties (and Nineties too, for that matter). For a reviewer who's taken a good listen to lots of records from that period, Thriller should sound, if not awfully dated, then at least not particularly outstanding; but of course, when we try to understand the real reasons for this puppy's huge success, we have to take into account the fact that a lot of people who were not watching the 'modern music' scene really closely, only understood that something different arrived when they saw those epoch-defining Thriller videos on MTV. Add up the videos and the whole social context and you can bump my rating up a whole star. Yeah, synth-pop and Eurodancing and what-not were already existent several years before Thriller arrived, but that's like saying that rock music existed before the Beatles; it sure did, but it took the Beatles to introduce rock music into the sphere of common knowledge and recognition.

However, Michael Jackson sure as hell ain't no Paul McCartney, even if he does duet with him on this album. And yeah, to a discerning musical listener's ear these days Thriller probably sounds quite dated. Usually I restrict the use of the 'dated' word to 'album that used to get by on sheer innovative/novel value, but had little actual melodic value to match the innovative techniques' - and while the music on Thriller was hardly innovative in the technical sense, apart from a couple minor details like inviting a heavy metal guitarist to play a solo on a disco track, it was certainly innovative and previously-unheard-of for the common man. In a certain sense. This "innovation" has long since whooshed by, and in the end what we're left with is a bunch of classic videos and a bunch of various quality songs to go along with these videos. And how good are they?

Well, let's discard the worst first. The ballads on here universally suck. I get a certain hoot out of the Macca duet 'This Girl Is Mine', just because of the novel value, and it's fun to hear Michael and Paul hold that "wordfight" at the very end. Funny coincidence - the track's guitar melody sounds very much like the Macca/Stevie Wonder duet 'Ebony And Ivory' from the same year. Coincidence, eh? Heh. The song is certainly no 'Say Say Say' (whadya want - 'Say Say Say' was written by McCartney, while 'This Girl Is Mine' was written by Michael Jackson), but kinda cute. However, the other three ballads are your basic generic R'n'B filler. Maybe an Al Green or a Marvin Gaye could have saved 'Baby Be Mine' or 'The Lady In My Life' with exceptional singing, but no such luck. Hey, were it in my power, I'd simply prohibit Michael from recording ballads.

This leaves us with the hot electronic grooves, produced to the point of "dying of excessive slickness" by Quincy Jones. The last bit of chaff to be removed in the somewhat unmemorable 'Pretty Young Thing' (or maybe it just seems unmemorable since it follows all these other superhits), and the remaining four tracks almost justify a large chunk of the record's reputation. Let's imagine for a moment that you've never heard any of these songs - for instance, you've spent most of your life locked in the basement with no TV or radio access - and see what we have here. 'Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' is probably the most "traditional" of these songs, reminding me of 'Don't Stop'Til You Get Enough' a bit, although what's up with these weird mumblin' backward voices in the background, I wonder? Sure sounds like a weird gimmick to me. In any case, the drum sequencing here is superb, there's a supercool funky guitar break in the middle, and of course, the main "body" of the groove, with the song title repeated over and over again, is pretty intoxicating.

And then there's the "big trio", of course. The title track is, and has always been, cheesy as all get out - but it's self-consciously cheesy, and remember, even the video looked more like an overblown parody on horror flicks than a serious take on the horror thematics. Plus, nobody in his right mind would want to have cheese master Vincent Price deliver that goofy 'darkness falls across the land' monolog at the end of the track if he wanted to explore the subject seriously. So, as a solid piece of self-conscious obnoxiousness, it really works, and the chorus is fairly catchy, I reckon. Then there's the much more serious social statement of 'Beat It' - yeah, that's the one that set a first by featuring Eddie Van Halen on lead guitar, and it can easily qualify as Michael's best song ever. Or at least, one of the blah blah blah. Jackson certainly hasn't had much time in his life to explore his "street roots", but even so on here he manages to get that tough, cruel atmosphere just right. And perhaps it's no coincidence that Eddie was invited to add his solo right after the completion of Van Halen's most brutal and "street-tough" album ever, Fair Warning - he fits in this song to a tee, really. Finally, there's 'Billy Jean'. That one is just super-catchy. Grooves along tremendously. And I guess Michael's singing really is passionate on that one: the paternity suit thematics was really a serious concern for the guy at the time.

And that's that. And there you have the bestselling album of all time. And if you ask me, I'd say the very fact that as of this review's writing, Thriller still remains the bestselling album of all time, doesn't forebode well for the future of music. Not because it's bad - it's still fairly listenable and contains its share of classics - but mainly because Thriller was the last album to usher in a totally new form of musical conscience, a form that totally transformed the standards for mainstream pop. Whatever you think, you gotta admit that even nowadays the mainstream pop standards remain essentially the same as defined by Thriller and similar records in the early Eighties. Now the day that a rock/pop album actually outsells Thriller, I guess, is gonna be the day of the next grand shift in musical conscience. If that day ever happens to arrive, that is.


BAD ***1/2

Year Of Release: 1987

You know, I can't for the life of me imagine why would anybody dump on Bad after praising Thriller except for purely "epoch-defining" reasons. So Thriller invented a whole new entertainment style and Bad did not - in fact, it pretty much sounded 'retro' upon release. So friggin' what? As time moves forward and the chronology landmarks become more and more diluted, with people not having been raised on the Thriller hits slowly overwhelming those who have, I'm pretty sure both records can just be regarded as twin brothers, despite the really ridiculous five-year break in between, during which Jacko, among with others, was the world, and also changed his skin colour (which is not a proper matter for chuckling remarks but don't tell me you haven't done at least one in your life).

If anything, Bad is more consistent than Thriller: just two ballads, and an overall greater number of songs, which means you'll still get a boatload of groove power while at the same time being exposed to more musical skeletons. Yeah sure, it lacks Monster Classics like 'Thriller' or 'Billy Jean', but it's not like you were ranking those two along with 'A Day In The Life' anyway. Is Jackson really running out of ideas? If you mean "revolutionary", then yes, he sure is; if you mean "melodic", then no, he's still pretty much at the top of his game.

You just gotta disregard the lyrics, as usual, and come to terms with the fact that the only inspiration for this album was Jackson's preceding one. Having done that, the title track is as cool as it gets, slowly building and building up towards the explosive chorus where Michael does his best to convince us that he is, in fact, one badass guy (to tease that ol' buddy of his, Ronald Reagan, I guess). There's nothing simpler in life than the four-note bassline that supports the song, but for some reason, it's the first occasion I got to actually hear it. What do you make of that?

Hooks abound - well, not within one single song, but at least most of the songs have at least one hook, and actually, you don't need much more - this is R'n'B-based dance music, after all, so if you have a hook and you can develop it into a groove, that's all you need. And I can't even say I have any favourites on here. 'The Way You Make Me Feel' is a bit tiresome with its "sway-back-and-forth" rhythm and isn't much to talk about, but for such a simple tune, it's fantastically inoffensive, with cute vocal harmonies and synths that never become overbearing. 'Speed Demon' has those mind-blowing bass runs in the chorus of which I know nothing... are they synthesized, looped, or is it a real human being playing them? Even in the former two cases, they're pretty cool, and totally fit the "speed" theme of the song. What else? 'Another Part Of Me' has another excellent chorus buildup, with Michael's triumphant conclusive "yer jest anothuh paht of meeee!" yelp definitely making an impression in my brain. What probably does not make an impression is his stale inventory of vocal gimmicks - the endless 'uh uh' and 'oww!' were fine enough on Off The Wall and Thriller, but at some point they're just becoming too predictable, not to mention never varying from verse to verse: am I the only one in the world who finds it boring when you're able to predict every 'uh uh' and 'oww!' in verses two and three after hearing them in verse one?

Never mind that, I actually enjoy 'Man In The Mirror', despite its preachiness (well I did tell myself to disregard the lyrics, didn't I? it's not too different a task... just imagine that the "uh uh" and "oww!" are the primary vocal focus and everything that is not an interjection are the secondary one - it's actually much easier than you prob'ly think). It's got one hell of a brilliant pop chorus if you ask me. For some reason, the AMG guide calls this one of the worst songs Michael ever recorded or something. Which makes me actively wonder. Really wonder. But not in a million years, not after spending billions of dollars on courses in psychoanalytics, musical theory, or pop culture, will I be able to understand why 'Man In The Mirror' is worse than [insert random preachy M.J. soft-rocker here].

Look, it's much more simple in my case. I'll just tell you that, according to my humble opinion, the Stevie Wonder duet 'Just Good Friends' lacks memorable hooks and so leaves me unimpressed. It's got groove potential but doesn't have that focal point to center my attention around. I'll also tell you that 'Liberian Girl' is a pretty stupid title for a pretty sappy ballad. I don't know if Michael really had it going with a Liberian girl, but if he did not, why Liberian? Why not Beninian? Or South African, for that matter? And the ballad 'I Just Can't Stop Loving You' is apparently evaluated by the AMG through some kind of crappy dusty "adult pap-o-meter" and thus found worthy. Well, I evaluate it through a certain inner feeling that tells me that unless a particular adult pap song has something extraordinary in it, it's not worth anything. Guess what, it kinda clicks for this one.

But on the positive side, 'Dirty Diana', continuing the politically correct "so many women in my life are hungry bitches" line of 'Billy Jean', is pretty good (more build-ups! more murky quasi-industrial beats!); and 'Smooth Criminal', continuing the commercially successful "give the people what they want" line of 'Thriller', is even better (why hasn't Jackson ever recorded an album with Alice Cooper, I wonder?). And these positive sides eventually overwhelm the negative ones, like, totally. In this respect, Bad is certainly one of the best "pop trash" albums of its time, and perhaps the five-year wait was worth it.



Year Of Release: 1992

I am (and you would be if you were in my God-forsaken place) somewhat justified to say that, mildly speaking, this album is overlong. Because it runs for a friggin' seventy-seven minutes. You know that seventy-seven minutes is more or less the maximum amount a normal CD can hold? By all means, the logical conclusion is that Michael made, say, a fifty-five or a sixty-minute album, then stopped and said to himself: "Gee, there's still some space left. Why don't I double the running length of several of the songs?" and did exactly that.

And it really hurts, especially considering that most of the songs sound exactly the same. Well okay, so the melodies are different (vocal melodies, mainly - there's no true instrumental melodicity anywhere under the basic beat), but this time Michael goes for a decidedly modernistic sound: I mean, it's only natural, considering that he hadn't really "updated" his Thriller style in a decade, that he finally got around to dumping Quincy Jones and choosing a couple of more up-to-date producers, but as usual, he just goes over the top. It would take a really sympathetic gentleman not to complain about how every goddamn song on here has these stupid BOOM-chac BOOM-chac BOOM-chac chooka-chooka-chooka BOOM-chac kind of rhythms that immediately date it to the early Nineties; I'm definitely not that sympathetic kind of gentleman, not with an album running over seventy minutes for sure. To make matters worse, I'd already been of video-age when the album came out, and for me it is forever associated with the stupid 'Black Or White' video, the best thing about which has always been the intro (remember that one, where the kid blows his dad off to Africa with a guitar blast? apparently, Michael himself liked it so much he put a snippet of the intro sequence onto the album itself... where it, of course, doesn't make any sense).

That said, the King of Pop still somewhat lives up to his title - lots of these songs show he hasn't lost true pop sensibility, and while there's not really more than one hook per song, the fact that they're all so long make these hooks pierce through your brain and fasten there forever. And the good thing is that Jacko comes up real short on sentimental ballads this time around; the inarguably worst moment of the album comes at the end of the anthemic hit 'Will You Be There', where the guy overemotes in such an overtly melodramatic, syrupy intonation it sends me straight to the toilet. Aw come on Michael, would anybody really still be falling under the spell of your phoney weeping deliveries in nineteen ninety two? Hmm. Well I guess don't answer that, some people are supposedly still visiting Heaven every time they hear that "soulful" recitative delivery of Elvis' during 'Are You Lonesome Tonight'.

But apart from that emotional fiasco and the short-and-utterly-unmemorable ballad 'Gone Too Soon', pretty much every other track is a dance number - sometimes slower, but more often faster. The problem here is that all of this stuff definitely works better in a live environment. The instruments are so irrelevant they might as well be non-existant: drum machines, synthesized rhythms and computer-generated loops and gimmicks are all the rage, and while this kind of stuff definitely works well together with Jackson's unbeatable live action (yeah, so I do think the guy is a genius when it comes to plastics, and I don't just mean his nose either), it doesn't work that well when you're just listening to it on the stereo.

On the other hand, there's no real pretension on here. It's dance music par excellence, and if "dance music" as such is to be valued at all, Dangerous is a good example - dated, yeah, but at the very least one of the top dance albums of its era. Michael didn't exactly go wrong here, he just delivered the best he could in an epoch and a genre that were doomed from the beginning. But it IS the best! 'Jam', 'Why You Wanna Trip On Me', and the title track all deliver - as long as you take 'deliver' to mean 'force you to sing along to the stupid chorus'. 'Jam! Jam! You wanna get up and jam!'. Being the pathetic wimpy nerd I am, I do not want to get up and jam, but that doesn't mean the song doesn't get to me on some level.

I mean, even conceptual atrocities like the dippy sugary 'Heal The World', with the obligatory "little-child-who-knows-better-than-us-all" spoken intro and equally obligatory wave-your-lighter-in-the-air chorus, are essentially melodic. 'She Drives Me Wild' is actually a lost gem, with a great contrast between the "rougher" verses and the tender, but sap-less chorus (I like it when they go 'she's driving me [pause] hhwiiilld', don't you?). And the video to 'Black Or White' may suck, but the song is once again one of the catchiest Michael ever did.

In all, Dangerous just gets undermined by too many factors that have nothing to do with the barebone essence of the songs. If you cut two thirds of the numbers in half, add some juicy guitar lines to compensate for the monotonousness of the beat, and strip the album of any sentimental excesses that may crop up in songs like 'Heal The World' and 'Will You Be There', this would easily be a Thriller-level performance. As it is, it just shows us that Jacko might not have been losing any of his 'sense of music' elements over the years, but he certainly was way too intent on making sure the record would be a number one hit as usual. Which, in the long run, proves to be a very unwise move. Will anyone be listening to this album, say, twenty years on from now?


HIStory **1/2

Year Of Release: 1995

To be fair, the "new" half of this album isn't really that much worse than Dangerous. But I still lower the rating, because of (a) one of the worst cases of taste in album covers in HIStory, (b) one of the least adequate correlations of running time (seventy-six minutes) to actual quality in HIStory, and (c) some of the gloopiest, most pukedly-sacchariney ballads in HIStory.

Oh, and make that (d) one of the cheapest and least satisfying marketing gimmicks in HIStory, or whoever-else-story. Simple question: what is the situation in which the artist feels the need to double-pack his new album together with a greatest hits collection? Sample answer: a situation where the artist is so afraid his new album won't sell the pre-required number of copies he's ready to trick the buyer into it by ANY available means. Not that HIStory has taught Michael anything - similar cases (like, for example, when the record company issued the Beach Boys' 1972 album as a "two-fer" with Pet Sounds) had pretty much always backfired, and so did this one. It still sold a lot, but significantly less than any preceding Jacko record, and, together with the ridiculous self-idolizing album cover, the child molesting scandal, and the infamous awards ceremony where he impersonated Jesus and got publicly mocked by Jarvis Cocker, it pretty much sealed his status as the biggest running joke of the decade.

I mean, what do you expect? Take a listen to the new material on here (I'm not even beginning to discuss the "greatest hits" part of the package - and my rating applies only to the new songs). Every second track and more indirectly hints at the child molesting scandal - Jacko has always been pretty paranoid when it comes down to his personal affairs ('Billie Jean', anyone?), but this is where the lid is simply blown off the kettle. 'As jacked as it sounds, the whole system sucks'. Yeah right Michael. Do we get to hear this from Ronald Reagan's best buddy? And, 'scuse me, but it is plain embarrassing when one of the richest guys in the music business pens a song with a refrain that goes 'you'll do anything for money'. Granted, perhaps Michael honestly thinks he never sold his soul to anyone (and hey, maybe he didn't?), but in any case, it's none of his rotten business to scorn others from his position. Blah. Now am I mistaken or is that cover of 'Come Together' on this album only so that Mr Jackson could reap double income from it - as the performer and the publishing rights owner?

All the things I've said are actually enough for me to just give this pile of shit one star and get away with it. Honestly, though, it's not really a pile of shit. If you liked Dangerous at least to some degree, you can easily tap into this one, as it's Dangerous Vol. 2: same production values, same BOOM-chac BOOM-chac dance beats, same alternations between grooves and sappy ballads, basically the same percentage of unbearable corn, although this time the corn is really unbearable - I'm talking primarily about the ballads, of course. I confess that I somehow like the bombastic 'Earth Song' - I think that by avoiding the usual "we are the world" style sing-around-the-campfire cheesiness and turning the tune into more of a tense, dramatic performance, Jackson pretty much saved it, and I really like the way the tension slowly mounts on here, from the opening quiet pleading to all-out screaming in the climax. It would be tempting to diss the number as just another example of Michael's stale megalomania, but it's really got potential, unlike the dreadful sappy shit of the Free Willy 2 theme 'Childhood', which I wouldn't even see fit for a modern-day Disney movie, or the Hollywoodish syrup of the closing 'Smile'. 'You Are Not Alone' is a bit more retroish, I think, maybe trying to recapture the intimacy of the ballads on Thriller, but I was never enchanted with those ones in the first place.

As for the 'rocking' numbers, well, everything I've said about Dangerous qualifies for this release, 'cept I really can't stand the constant phoney "anti-system" rants. Don't fool around with little kids, Michael, and the system will be just all right with you. As it is, the chorus of 'They Don't Really Care About Us' once again qualifies as one of the catchiest themes he ever did; the 'Scream' duet with Janet is pretty good for an opener; '2 Bad' and 'This Time Around' are moderately exciting; and... uh... what else is there to say? Really nothing. Oh, and, as far as pompous epics go, the title track here just about totally sucks ass. Sorry, I can't tolerate megalomania, especially when it's done in such a straightforward manner. How much history does Jacko actually know, I wonder?

Shit, man, maybe the rating is too high after all. But really, the main reasons for being embarrassed here are all in the gruesome inadequacy of the whole deal. It's just a clear-cut case of flashiness and packaging towering three heads high over the actual substance, and it arguably represents some of the worst commercial and artistic moves Jackson ever permitted himself. The self-elevation the guy marketed in that period is unprecedented and unparalleled, not even matched by the likes of the Rolling Stones or Elvis, I guess. Small wonder he pretty much went burning down in flames in the critics' and the "intelligent listeners"' eyes at the time, even if the records were still selling pretty well.


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