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Too retro - and intro-spective
on 1 October 2003
A flawed masterpiece. Disc 1, Jackon's Greatest Hits in all but name, is backed by a cringe inducing booklet that includes pictures of Jackson with no less than five Presidents, a roll call of honours bequeathed by a grateful planet and a note, beyond parody, in which a young fan implores President Clinton to restore world peace, eliminate poverty and prevent the press from hounding Jackson further. Whatever you might think about Jacko, he doesn't half take himself seriously.
In 1995, he was angry and if Disc 1 told you what he thought of himself, Vol 2 left you in no doubt about his views on everyone else. 'Scream,' a duet with sister Janet, rails against the 'injustice' of his detractors and sets the tone, 'They don't really care about us' and 'Scandal' continue it.
And yet...and yet... for all the bile, Jackson can't hide his essential gifts as a songwriter and performer that are his true legacy. 'Money', wraps a vicious lyric in a soaring harmonised chorus that recalls his finest moments from 'Off the Wall.' 'You are not alone' and 'Childhood,' are vulnerable, tender and beautifully sung. 'Earth Song,' forever associated with Jarvis Cocker's on-stage ridicule of Jackson's self delusion at the 1996 Brits, remains powerful in the simplicity of its message and is delivered with a heavy punch. 'Too Bad' successfully continues his attempt at Rock/Pop crossover that can be traced back to 'Beat It' via 'Black and White.' 'Stranger in Moscow,' is a swelling ballad grafted onto a simple break beat.
HisTory has more than its share of weak moments however most of which can be laid at the feet of producers Jam and Lewis. By 1995, the techniques they had developed as members of The Time and used to such effect on sister Janet's album 1812 nearly a decade before, were virtually unchanged. Still in place on 2002's 'Invincible', Jackson's sound has dated unduly as a consequence. HiStory, as its title suggests is too retro- and intro-spective; seeking to recreate former glories rather than create new. It is still good enough however to offer flashes of both.