This is one of the more interesting and in some terms controversial releases in Jackson’s catalog. It’s a greatest hits album and a studio album mixed into one. Some people loved it while others hated. One has to question whether or not it received so much hate because of the allegations that he was facing at the time. Either way, it’s still a great release. Where else can you get the best of Michael Jackson along with some new material? Granted, what we find on the second disc is not his best work, but it’s still intriguing and good.
This review will mainly focus on Disc 2 (HIStory Continues) with all the new songs, rather than the first disc. Regarding the first disc, it’s the best of Jackson all the way. It has songs from all of his studio releases at that point in time, so you can’t really go wrong. With songs like “Billie Jean,” “Thriller,” “Bad,” and “Remember the Time” it’s sure to be the most played disc in your collection. The track list is pretty solid, though there are other great songs like “Smooth Criminal” and “Leave Me Alone” that aren’t included here. There are also some songs that should’ve been left out, such as “The Girl is Mine” and “Heal the World.” They’re both good songs, but I wouldn’t count them among his best work. Besides, most of the songs here are fun; I wouldn’t consider these two songs fun.
History Continues has some really great tracks that fans have grown to know and love over the years. It begins with “Scream,” which has still got to be one of the best duets ever. Not only is the song catchy as hell and features baby sister Janet sticking up for her big brother, the song introduces the themes found on the record. Here we find an angry, irritated Michael Jackson, who is tired of being pushed around and slandered in the media. You can hear his anger not just in vocals, but in the music as well, especially during the bridge when the hardcore rock guitar comes in and tears it up. The aggression continues with the track “They Don’t Really Care About Us.”
This has got to be one of his most forward and outspoken songs. Everything about the song is pure anger from the vocals, to the lyrics, to the booming music that makes you want to gather up people for a rally. Of course the song deals with racism in our society, but it also touches on what Jackson was going through since the early 90’s with the allegations of child abuse. When he says “I am the victim of police brutality, now/I’m tired of bein’ the victim of hate/You’re rapin’ me off my pride/Oh, for God’s sake” it seems like he’s referencing when he was dealing with the police during the initial trials. But the song can also reference all the hate and violence that goes on in the world. It’s a powerful song that is still relevant to this day. Plus, when those pounding drums start, it really gets your heart racing, which is pretty appropriate for a song like this.
It’s after this song that the theme of the album becomes apparent. Most of the tracks deal with the anger, hurt, sadness, and loneliness Jackson was dealing with due to the child abuse accusations. It’s as if he had all these emotions bottled up and this was his chance to let them all out. He attacks the media, people who have used him, even the police in some instances. Because of this the album is pretty dark and really sad at times. This isn’t the fun Jackson who just wanted to dance and make people smile from the 80’s. Here, he’s been through the most horrible experience of his life and it was costing him his career. And as a fan you had no idea what he was going through, until you listen to this record.
Themes of isolation and loneliness can be found on “Stranger in Moscow.” This has always been one of my favorite Jackson songs because it’s tragically beautiful. The music is soft and sweet and Michael sounds really vulnerable as he sings. But it’s a really sad song about his loneliness from what he was going through. The line “Swift and sudden fall from grace” breaks your heart because ultimately that’s what happened and he knew it was going on. “Childhood” is a tearjerker, especially now that’ he’s gone. It’s about how no one understands him; people think he’s weird just because he’s trying to make up for the childhood he never had. It’s like he was pleading for people to understand who he was and why he was acting the way he did, yet no one listened. Granted, it’s not his strongest song, but it is one of his more emotional. I can’t even listen to it now without crying.
The anger and paranoia comes out on tracks like “D.S.,” “Money,” and “Tabloid Junkie.” The first song is the most interesting because it is believed that it is a direct attack on Santa Barbara Country attorney Tom Sneddon, who controlled the child abuse investigation and called for Jackson to be stripped searched. Technically, Michael says “Dom Sheldon is a cold man” during the chorus, but it sounds an awful lot like Sneddon’s name. One song where Jackson sounds cold and spiteful is “Money.” Even though the slinky, smooth R&B rhythm gets you moving, the track is all about people who used him for money and the nasty things people do in the name of greed. What’s most interesting about the song is that Michael’s voice is deeper here. You almost think it’s not him, but it seems like he took on this tone to express his frustration.
The album is pretty strong until we get to the last three songs. “History,” “Little Susie,” and “Smile” just don’t fit anywhere on this album. They’re more like album filler than anything else. “History” doesn’t even feel like a song. It’s mostly filled with audio samples from American history with Jackson singing occasionally. While the verses are pretty catchy, the chorus doesn’t pack a punch and becomes dull after that. “Little Susie” sounds like something out of Les Miserable. It has big, sweeping dramatic music, while Jackson sings about a little girl who has died. Yeah, I don’t get it either. Finally, “Smile” is actually a cover of a song by Charlie Chaplin, who Jackson admired. And while it’s not bad, the sudden optimism of the track really throws the record off. It has a nice message, but it doesn’t fit on the album. It would’ve been better off as a b-side.
Overall, the release gets 8/10. No one can resist the greatest Michael Jackson songs on one disc and that’s probably the biggest selling point of the album, especially since at that time he didn’t have a compilation like that. But the second disc of new material has some great stuff. Not all the songs stand out, but there are others here that are now considered classics. Also, it’s interesting to hear an angrier Jackson. It’s also really sad to hear how much the trials and all the stuff he went through in the early 90’s affected him. Either way, it’s a great release that every Jackson fan needs in their collection.