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Michael Jackson - Topic

History on Film, Vol. 2 Play

Michael Jackson's History on Film, Vol. 2 gathers 14 of his music videos and live TV performances, including his appearance at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards and his rendition of "Billie Jean" from the Motown 25th Anniversary special. Some videos, such as "Liberian Girl" and "Earth Song" were shown infrequently in the U.S., while classics such as John Landis' "Thriller" mini-film showcase the detailed choreography, sets, and costumes that became staples of nearly all of Jackson's videos. History on Film, Vol. 2 also includes Mark Romanek's stylish, interstellar clip for Michael and Janet Jackson's duet "Scream" and videos for singles such as "Smooth Criminal," the Free Willy theme "Childhood," "Stranger in Moscow", and "You Are Not Alone." One of the first video collections presented as a DVD, History on Film, Vol. 2 doesn't offer much in the way of additional features, which may disappoint fans looking for the complete Michael Jackson video experience. Still, the eclectic selection of clips and performances may make it worthwhile for die-hard Michael Jackson devotees. ~ Heather Phares, Rovi

Invincible Play

The question for a 42-year-old Michael Jackson heading toward the end of 2001 was whether or not the self-proclaimed King of Pop could make his presence known on the charts after having spent much of the '90s lAying low. If the chart-topping position achieved by Invincible is any indication, then the answer is a resounding yes. The album is primarily produced by Jersey wunderkind Rodney Jerkins, and Jacko wasted no time tapping other top-flight artists, knob-twirlers, and featured guests to help out, including Teddy Riley, Babyface, R. Kelly, the Notorious B.I.G., and Carlos Santana. Although MJ stops long enough to take a swipe at yellow journalists everywhere with "Privacy," he truly shines on "The Lost Children," a sweeping ode to his young fans everywhere., Rovi

Thriller Play

Off the Wall was a massive success, spawning four Top Ten hits (two of them number ones), but nothing could have prepared Michael Jackson for Thriller. Nobody could have prepared anybody for the success of Thriller, since the magnitude of its success was simply unimaginable -- an album that sold 40 million copies in its initial chart run, with seven of its nine tracks reaching the Top Ten (for the record, the terrific "Baby Be Mine" and the pretty good ballad "The Lady in My Life" are not like the others). This was a record that had something for everybody, building on the basic blueprint of Off the Wall by adding harder funk, hard rock, softer ballads, and smoother soul -- expanding the approach to have something for every audience. That alone would have given the album a good shot at a huge audience, but it also arrived precisely when MTV was reaching its ascendancy, and Jackson helped the network by being not just its first superstar, but first black star as much as the network helped him. This all would have made it a success (and its success, in turn, served as a new standard for success), but it stayed on the charts, turning out singles, for nearly two years because it was really, really good. True, it wasn't as tight as Off the Wall -- and the ridiculous, late-night house-of-horrors title track is the prime culprit, arriving in the middle of the record and sucking out its momentum -- but those one or two cuts don't detract from a phenomenal set of music. It's calculated, to be sure, but the chutzpah of those calculations (before this, nobody would even have thought to bring in metal virtuoso Eddie Van Halen to play on a disco cut) is outdone by their success. This is where a song as gentle and lovely as "Human Nature" coexists comfortably with the tough, scared "Beat It," the sweet schmaltz of the Paul McCartney duet "The Girl Is Mine," and the frizzy funk of "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)." And, although this is an undeniably fun record, the paranoia is already creeping in, manifesting itself in the record's two best songs: "Billie Jean," where a woman claims Michael is the father of her child, and the delirious "Wanna Be Startin' Something," the freshest funk on the album, but the most claustrophobic, scariest track Jackson ever recorded. These give the record its anchor and are part of the reason why the record is more than just a phenomenon. The other reason, of course, is that much of this is just simply great music. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Off the Wall Play

Michael Jackson had recorded solo prior to the release of Off the Wall in 1979, but this was his breakthrough, the album that established him as an artist of astonishing talent and a bright star in his own right. This was a visionary album, a record that found a way to break disco wide open into a new world where the beat was undeniable, but not the primary focus -- it was part of a colorful tapestry of lush ballads and strings, smooth soul and pop, soft rock, and alluring funk. Its roots hearken back to the Jacksons' huge mid-'70s hit "Dancing Machine," but this is an enormously fresh record, one that remains vibrant and giddily exciting years after its release. This is certainly due to Jackson's emergence as a blindingly gifted vocalist, equally skilled with overwrought ballads as "She's Out of My Life" as driving dancefloor shakers as "Working Day and Night" and "Get on the Floor," where his asides are as gripping as his delivery on the verses. It's also due to the brilliant songwriting, an intoxicating blend of strong melodies, rhythmic hooks, and indelible construction. Most of all, its success is due to the sound constructed by Jackson and producer Quincy Jones, a dazzling array of disco beats, funk guitars, clean mainstream pop, and unashamed (and therefore affecting) schmaltz that is utterly thrilling in its utter joy. This is highly professional, highly crafted music, and its details are evident, but the overall effect is nothing but pure pleasure. Jackson and Jones expanded this approach on the blockbuster Thriller, often with equally stunning results, but they never bettered it. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Music & Me Play

This was Michael Jackson's least successful album during his solo run at Motown. The songs were undistinguished, Jackson sounded tentative and uninterested vocally, and the production and arrangements were routine at best, sometimes inferior. There's little wonder that Jackson at this point began to openly express his desires to expand his horizons and try a fresher, more contemporary approach. ~ Ron Wynn, Rovi

Got to Be There Play

Riding high on the wild success of the Jackson 5, Motown ringleader Berry Gordy assembled every single notable production team member and songwriter in his arsenal to contribute to the solo debut of the J5's boy wonder, Michael. By the time Got to Be There was released, much had changed in the Jackson dynamic, none the least Michael's voice. But this album launched three chart singles: a cover of the bubblegum classic "Rockin' Robin," Leon Ware's "I Wanna Be Where You Are," and the title track. As a cohesive album, Got to Be There is wildly erratic, and his covers of "You've Got a Friend" and "Ain't No Sunshine" show Jackson's versatility as a singer. It was a world away from the politically charged sound of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and the introspection that would later grace some of the best works of Stevie Wonder. But Got to Be There kept Gordy as king of the sound of young America -- at least for a few months longer. ~ Rob Theakston, Rovi

Dangerous Play

Despite the success of Bad, it was hard not to view it as a bit of a letdown, since it presented a cleaner, colder, calculated version of Thriller -- something that delivered what it should on the surface, but wound up offering less in the long run. So, it was time for a change-up, something even a superstar as huge as Michael Jackson realized, so he left Quincy Jones behind, hired Guy mastermind Teddy Riley as the main producer, and worked with a variety of other producers, arrangers, and writers, most notably Bruce Swedien and Bill Bottrell. The end result of this is a much sharper, harder, riskier album than Bad, one that has its eyes on the street, even if its heart gets middle-class soft on "Heal the World." The shift in direction and change of collaborators has liberated Jackson, and he's written a set of songs that is considerably stronger than Bad, often approaching the consistency of Off the Wall and Thriller. If it is hardly as effervescent or joyous as either of those records, chalk it up to his suffocating stardom, which results in a set of songs without much real emotional center, either in their substance or performance. But, there's a lot to be said for professional craftsmanship at its peak, and Dangerous has plenty of that, not just on such fine singles as "In the Closet," "Remember the Time," or the blistering "Jam," but on album tracks like "Why You Wanna Trip on Me." No, it's not perfect -- it has a terrible cover, a couple of slow spots, and suffers from CD-era ailments of the early '90s, such as its overly long running time and its deadening Q Sound production, which sounds like somebody forgot to take the Surround Sound button off. Even so, Dangerous captures Jackson at a near-peak, delivering an album that would have ruled the pop charts surely and smoothly if it had arrived just a year earlier. But it didn't -- it arrived along with grunge, which changed the rules of the game nearly as much as Thriller itself. Consequently, it's the rare multi-platinum, number one album that qualifies as a nearly forgotten, underappreciated record. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Ghosts Play

Ghosts was a 40-minute mini-feature Michael Jackson released in 1997 that essentially copied the style of Thriller. It premiered at the Cannes film festival, where it was supposed to generate interest in his remix album Blood on the Dance Floor. It failed to attract much attention, mainly because of its derivative nature and the fact that there was no place for the bloody thing to play outside of home video. And it was released on home video, months after the initial remix album fell of the charts. In the U.K., Ghosts was released as a limited-edition box set featuring the video, a copy of the Cannes probram, Blood on the Dancefloor and a remix single of Ghosts that also features the previously unreleased "On the Line," which was produced by Babyface. As a collectible, it's of interest to hardcore Jackson fans, but they should be aware that the actual content of this collection is decidedly below par. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Forever, Michael Play

Michael Jackson's fourth and final new studio album for Motown came nearly two years after its predecessor, Music and Me. It was a more mature effort for the 16-year-old singer but lacked the contemporary dance style that had given Jackson and his brothers a career rebirth with "Dancing Machine" the year before. The album did spawn two minor chart singles, "We're Almost There" and "Just a Little Bit of You" (both produced by Brian Holland of the Holland-Dozier-Holland production team), and a third track, "One Day in Your Life," would chart as a reissue six years later. But though Jackson sang appealingly, the arrangements were noticeably similar to many older Motown charts, and there was little here to hint that, four years hence, on his next solo album, Off the Wall, Jackson would emerge as a major star. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix Play

Despite its heavy promotion, HIStory was a considerable sales disappointment, largely because it buried an album of new material with a greatest-hits collection, causing the former to be overlooked. Although the new album was unfocused, it had its moments, which may be why Michael Jackson refused to let HIStory die. He remixed eight of its songs for Blood on the Dance Floor: History in the Mix, and then added another five new songs. This time, however, it wasn't such a loss, since all the songs on Blood on the Dance Floor are of a piece. The title track, a reworking of "Jam" and "Scream," is indicative of the rest of the album. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Michael Play

As the first excavation of Michael Jackson’s vaults, Michael carries the weight of expectation. After Jackson split with Quincy Jones following 1987’s Bad, he had a revolving door of producers in his studio, many of them major producer. Michael rounds up ten of these, relying heavily on cuts he was tinkering with in the years after Invincible (including tracks with cameos by Akon and 50 Cent). Much of this recalls Dangerous, heavier on rhythms than melody. Tellingly, the exceptions to the rule are the oldest tunes here -- “Behind the Mask” and “Much Too Soon,” both dating back to Thriller, and “(I Like) The Way You Love Me,” an outtake first aired on the 2004 box The Ultimate Collection and reworked here. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Bad Play

The downside to a success like Thriller is that it's nearly impossible to follow, but Michael Jackson approached Bad much the same way he approached Thriller -- take the basic formula of the predecessor, expand it slightly, and move it outward. This meant that he moved deeper into hard rock, deeper into schmaltzy adult contemporary, deeper into hard dance -- essentially taking each portion of Thriller to an extreme, while increasing the quotient of immaculate studiocraft. He wound up with a sleeker, slicker Thriller, which isn't a bad thing, but it's not a rousing success, either. For one thing, the material just isn't as good. Look at the singles: only three can stand alongside album tracks from its predecessor ("Bad," "The Way You Make Me Feel," "I Just Can't Stop Loving You"), another is simply OK ("Smooth Criminal"), with the other two showcasing Jackson at his worst (the saccharine "Man in the Mirror," the misogynistic "Dirty Diana"). Then, there are the album tracks themselves, something that virtually didn't exist on Thriller but bog down Bad not just because they're bad, but because they reveal that Jackson's state of the art is not hip. And they constitute a near-fatal dead spot on the record -- songs three through six, from "Speed Demon" to "Another Part of Me," a sequence that's utterly faceless, lacking memorable hooks and melodies, even when Stevie Wonder steps in for "Just Good Friends," relying on nothing but studiocraft. Part of the joy of Off the Wall and Thriller was that craft was enhanced with tremendous songs, performances, and fresh, vivacious beats. For this dreadful stretch, everything is mechanical, and while the album rebounds with songs that prove mechanical can be tolerable if delivered with hooks and panache, it still makes Bad feel like an artifact of its time instead a piece of music that transcends it. And if that wasn't evident proof that Jackson was losing touch, consider this -- the best song on the album is "Leave Me Alone" (why are all of his best songs paranoid anthems?), a tune tacked on to the end of the CD and never released as a single, apart from a weirdly claustrophobic video that, not coincidentally, was the best video from the album. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Michael Jackson Play

Michael Jackson's edition of 20th Century Masters -- The Millennium Collection concentrates entirely on his solo recordings from the early '70s, including such blockbusters as "Got to Be There," "Rockin' Robin," and "Ben." This doesn't contain every single one of his early solo hits, but it does contain the great majority of them, which means it might satisfy the tastes of many listeners who just want a sampling of the best of this era. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Number Ones Play

Since Michael Jackson botched his first hits collection by pairing it with a new album of material in a double-disc set, making it considerably less attractive for those legions of listeners who want just a single disc of hits, it's both inevitable and welcome that he attempted another compilation a few years later. This second collection, Number Ones, was released in the wake of the 2000 blockbuster Beatles 1, which rewrote the rules of modern-day hits collections from major artists, since it not only contained a generous, representative cross section of hits, it had a specific focus and did gangbuster business. An avalanche of similar-minded compilations by other titans followed, notably Elvis' 30 #1 Hits and the Rolling Stones' Forty Licks, and MJ's Number Ones is part of that wave. For some artists, sticking to number one hits isn't a bad way to make a collection -- the Beatles are a perfect example, actually, since even if 1 didn't contain such seminal items as "Strawberry Fields Forever," it still offered a full, representative portrait of their career. Jackson doesn't fare so well by the number one rule. First of all, he doesn't strictly follow the number one rule, leaving behind the number one hit duet "Say Say Say" with Paul McCartney, substituting a 1981 live version of "Ben" for the original hit, adding "Break of Dawn," an Invincible album cut never released as a single, and including "Thriller," "Smooth Criminal," and "Earth Song," none of which hit number one, and the latter wasn't even released as a single in the U.S. (there is, of course, the requisite previously unreleased song, the OK slow jam "One More Chance"). Then, there's the fact that Thriller changed the business, inaugurating the era of the blockbuster album that rode the charts for years, spinning off hit singles every quarter. Thriller generated tons of hits -- six of its nine tracks hit the charts, but only two of them hit number one. Its successor, Bad, had seven of its 11 songs hit the charts (one other, the CD bonus cut "Leave Me Alone," was a staple on MTV), and of those, five peaked at number one. So, by sticking to number ones, and adding "Smooth Criminal," this collection skews very heavily toward Bad, at times playing like an expanded reissue with bonus tracks. This may be a fairly accurate reading of chart positions, but it doesn't result in a particularly representative collection, since the brilliant Off the Wall is granted only two songs, leaving behind such charting hits as "Off the Wall" and "She's Out of My Life" (both gold singles, mind you), and Thriller is represented by only three tracks, with such defining songs as "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," "Human Nature," "PYT (Pretty Young Thing)," and "The Girl Is Mine" being left behind. These two albums are the core of Jackson's legacy, and it simply feels wrong that Number Ones gives them short shrift. Dangerous also is neglected, providing just one selection, when on the whole it had far more memorable songs than HIStory or Invincible. But these problems are inherent with any collection that concentrates just on the charts, not the music that got the songs on the charts in the first place. And while Number Ones contains enough of the big songs to recommend it for those listeners who are looking just for a cross section of the biggest hits from Jackson's career, it is also true that the perfect Michael Jackson hits collection has yet to be assembled. Maybe next time, particularly if he's granted an entry into Sony's generally excellent The Essentials series. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Hello World: The Motown Solo Collection Play

Released only a matter of days after Michael Jackson's tragic June 2009 passing but in the works long before that, Hip-O Select's Hello World: The Motown Solo Collection collects the entirety of his solo recordings for Motown in a triple-disc set. Although Michael had some major hits during this period -- notably "Got to Be There," "Ben," and "Rockin' Robin," all Top Five hits on both the pop and Black Singles charts -- it's fair to call these years Jackson's awkward adolescence, perched partway between the preteen dynamo of the Jackson Five and the cool, confident entertainer of Off the Wall. Certainly, Jackson wasn't in artistic control on these four albums -- Got to Be There and Ben, both from 1972; 1973's Music & Me, 1975's Forever, Michael -- not picking the songs or having a hand in the arrangements, a point hammered home on Farewell My Summer Love where the vocal tracks of unreleased cuts were set to new, modern backing tracks in 1984 at the height of Thriller mania. Farewell in all its awkwardness is here, along with the original superior mixes of nine tracks and Looking Back to Yesterday, another Motown cash-in of unreleased recordings released at the peak of Jackson's popularity. Motown effectively emptied their vaults of rare Michael Jackson material during this time so there's nothing new here for collectors, but much of this material has been out of print for a long time, so it's useful putting the somewhat forgotten recordings of a major artist back in circulation even if the music doesn't hold any new insights. Essentially, these three discs confirm the basic narrative of Michael Jackson's career to be correct: he was drifting at Motown as a solo artist, trapped both by his adolescence and the unwillingness of the label to give him anything to do other than follow shifting trends from bubblegum soul to disco (in this sense, the stiff synthesized productions on Farewell don't seem out of line, they're merely another step in Motown's continued march through fashion). Naturally, the aforementioned big hits retain their power and there are some gems scattered throughout each of the discs -- and those gems come entirely from Jackson's pure, natural charisma -- which may be reason enough for serious fans to get this handsomely produced set, but this is more interesting as a history lesson than it is as entertainment. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
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