A self-proclaimed 'King,' Jackson makes 'HIStory' a personal monument

June 18, 1995|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Michael Jackson, in case you hadn't noticed, has a bit of an ego.

Take that "King of Pop" business. Elvis Presley earned his title by acclamation, when his fans spontaneously took to calling him "the King." Jackson, by contrast, took the Napoleonic route, not only crowning himself but insisting that MTV use the title when referring to him. An act of modesty that isn't.

Then again, Jackson has a lot to be immodest about. He may not have put as many hits into the Top 40 as Presley did, but he's had a longer run at the top -- it's been over a quarter century since the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" went to No. 1. Moreover, Jackson has had an incredibly high success rate; the four solo albums he has released since 1977 contain a total of 44 songs, 21 of which have been Top 10 hits.

Add in the fact that "Thriller" remains the best-sell- ing album of all time, and it's clear that Jackson's career is one for the record books. But is it the stuff of history?

Apparently he thinks so. That's why he dubbed his new album "HIStory" (Epic 59000), a title suggesting that his life truly is the stuff of legends. (The full title, by the way, is "HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1." Obviously, Jackson is hoping for saga status.) Admittedly, the double-CD set -- which arrives in stores Tuesday -- is a monumental piece of work; a 2 1/2 -hour extravaganza boasting 15 new tunes, a 15-song greatest hits disc, and a $32.98 list price.

But it's mainly a monument to Jackson himself. From the statue on the cover -- the same one unveiled in that $4 million commercial that finds Jackson marching at the head of a column of troops, looking like he's about to annex the Sudetenland -- to the celebrity testimonials inside, Jackson gives himself such a pat on the back you'd think he left bruises. It's one thing to include a verbal bouquet or two from his good buddy Elizabeth Taylor, quite another to toss in a still from "Cleopatra" in which Jackson has replaced Richard Burton as Caesar. (Can you say "megalomania"?)

None of this should affect our appreciation of the music. But Jackson has taken such a personal approach in his new songs that it's hard not to notice that the focus of the album is him, him, him. He wants the world to "stop pressurin' me" ("Scream"), tells his enemies that he's taking no guff ("This Time Around"), complains about the press ("Tabloid Junkie" and "They Don't Care About Us"), and asks us to "try hard to love me" ("Childhood").

4 Now do you understand why it's called "HIStory"?

Beneath it all, of course, lurks the specter of the child molestation case that dogged him through much of 1993 and 1994. Jackson doesn't specifically mention the allegations -- he was never formally charged, though he did settle a civil suit out of court -- but it's easy enough to read between the lines.

"This Time Around," for instance, includes lyrics such as "You really want to use me/Falsely accuse me," doubtless a jab at Evan Chandler, father of the 13-year old boy who filed a civil suit against Jackson alleging sexual abuse. Then there's "They Don't Care About Us," which finds Jackson singing, "I am the victim of police brutality" -- surely a reference to the photos L.A. police took of his private parts -- and "Tabloid Junkie," which opens with a swirl of gossipy news bites about the singer.

He also goes on at length about his concern for children. "HIStory," it should be noted, is "dedicated to all the children of the world," and includes three children's choirs, two child soloists, and a Russian-speaking child narrator. "I've never bothered the children who love me," he spits in "They Don't Care About Us," but he's well aware that other people have, as the melodramatic "Little Susie" makes plain.

For all that, "HIStory" hardly comes across as being safe for kids. There are several profanities on the album -- a heavyweight expletive in "Scream" and a repeated swear word in "This Time Around" -- but no "Parental Advisory" warning sticker on the cover. Is Jackson really so cavalier about language? Or does he just want to keep his album from falling victim to the stickered-album ban imposed by chains like Wal-Mart?

Of course, merely asking such questions seems to play into Jackson's suggestion that the press is out to get him. And what, asks "Childhood," is his crime, beyond wanting to recapture the "wonder" of youth? "Before you judge me, try hard to love me," he sings, and as his voice breaks piteously, it's hard not to feel sorry for the guy.

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