MJJ

Mini Music Review: Scream – Michael Jackson

Release Year: 2017

Rating: 6/10

Scream is the most ridiculous posthumous release from the Michael Jackson estate. The compilation collects what the Jackson estate calls Jackson’s “most electrifying and danceable tracks.” In other words, it’s a bunch of songs you already own. It seems they wanted to theme the release around Halloween and his “spooky” songs, which explains why Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me” and The Jackson’s “Torture” is featured. Though it doesn’t justify why “Dirty Diana,” “Xscape,” and “Leave Me Alone” are included.

While the music is good, obviously, the release is just pointless. The only “new” track is the “Blood On the Dancefloor x Dangerous” remix by The White Panda. And it’s pretty shitty. The estate is clearly scraping the bottom of the barrel with this one. Not that the other posthumous releases were great, but at least they gave us something new. Here, they’re repacking songs you already own under a loose theme.

If you’re a new fan it may be something to grab, but if you own all of Jackson’s records or any other greatest hits LP, then there’s no need to buy Scream. It’s a sad cash grab to sucker more money out of fans. They’re most likely banking on orders of the vinyl edition, which boasts a glow-in-the-dark disc. It won’t be long before this release finds its way to the bargain along with 2009’s Michael.

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Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

Moonwalker is a weird, ambitious project by Michael Jackson. Released in 1988, the video is a collection of short segments all featuring Jackson. There’s no continuous narrative; just a lot of weirdness. The singer wanted the movie to be screened in theaters, but the budget fell through and was released straight to video instead. A video game of the same name was also released as a tie-in, but that’s for another day. To celebrate Jackson’s 59th birthday I wanted to look back on this movie, which is still one of my favorites.

It used to fill up many bored afternoons when I was a kid and it’s still something I love watching today. Whenever I need a good laugh or just want to smile, I put this on and get lost in Jackson’s weird, wonderful world for a little bit. It’s full of flaws and portions of it are ridiculous as hell, but it’s charming and a lot of fun. It’s hard to imagine this doing well in theaters since there really isn’t a plot. It’s more like a collection of segments all involving Jackson. Still, it’s an interesting project that reminds us what a visionary he was.

The film starts with a powerful performance of “Man in the Mirror” making you think that it’s a concert film. Then it goes straight into the best part, the retrospective. Following Jackson from the Jackson 5 all the way up to Bad, it’s a fun, creative look back at the music and career defining moments. This part has always been my favorite for the popping effects, different animation styles, and the great energy. Highlights include a Claymation Jackson 5 singing “ABC,” a stop-motion robot joining Jackson on “Dancing Machine,” a mini “Human Nature” video, and a creepy ode to “Ben.” Throughout, we also see related memorabilia, award ceremonies, and magazine covers showing what a big deal the singer was at his peak.

Once we reach the Bad era, we see condensed versions of “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Dirty Diana” before getting to ”Badder.” The strange segment features a bunch of kids recreating the “Bad” video with scary accuracy. This has always been another one of my favorite parts. I still love separating the good kids from those who just don’t have it (looking at you midriff kid). Did we need kids to recreate this video? No, but it’s charming and cute. Try not cracking up at the ten-year old with a five o’clock shadow.

Once mini-Jackson is done with his dance off, adult Jackson returns and proceeds to be chased down by weird, unsettling big headed people. Again, a very weird part of the film, but it’s a blast to watch. Even Jackson looks like he’s having a good time with a big smile rarely leaving his face. While on the run, he runs into a talking Statue of Liberty, chubby twin bikers who he’s clearly disgusted by, Stephen Spielberg losing his shorts, and a bunch of screaming fans. It’s a creative romp taking the piss out of Hollywood and obsessive fandom.

So how does Jackson make it out of this situation? With the help of his friend, Spike. He suits up as a Jackson-esque bunny and leads into the “Speed Demon” video. This is where the Claymation shines. Spike turns into different celebrities of the era, like Pee Wee, Tina Turner, and Sylvester Stallone. And there are clever jokes throughout the segment, like a stop at “Frank in a Box” named after his manager Frank DiLeo and even Jack Nicholson in the car chasing him. The video ends with a memorable dance off between Spike and Jackson. Yes, the whole thing is weird, but it’s imaginative. You get so sucked into the world you don’t even question how a bunny costume came to life. It perfectly shows off the child-like wonder Jackson often flaunted throughout his life.

After an interlude featuring the stop-motion “Leave Me Alone” video, we get to the extended “Smooth Criminal” segment. Sigh. Even as a kid I never really liked this part. Though the segment does look pretty slick, it’s confusing, poorly acted, and makes no sense. It follows Jackson and a group of homeless kids as they go up against Mr. Big (Joe Pesci) because Jackson found his drug den…or something. It’s not really clear why Mr. Big is trying to kill him. Also, it’s never clear what kind of world we’re in. Why are the kids homeless? Where are all the other adults? Why exactly does Mr. Big want to get kids high? And we can’t ignore that Jackson is somehow magical in this world. During the video, he turns into a car, a rocket ship, and a giant fucking robot. And the kids never find this strange. They go along with it as if it’s not weird for a man to turn into a fucking car.

They’re also never sure how to feel about Jackson. At one point he’s their friend and are concerned with finding him. When Katie finds him and points it out the other kids respond “so?” When he turns into a robot they act a little surprised but never bother to bring it up again. And when he flies over them as the rocket ship at the end, they say “Bye Michael” as if he just got on a bus. And let’s not forget how Club 30 is an abandoned, dusty place when the kids find it. But Jackson walks in and it’s a hopping bar from the 20s, which he proceeds to start trouble in. What exactly is going on here?

After defeating Mr. Big and his faceless soldiers, Jackson comes back after Katie makes a wish and whisks the kids away to a precarious backstage area with sparking plugs never explaining to the kids what the fuck just happened. Suddenly, he’s on stage performing “Come Together” in front of John Lennon’s kid. What is even happening? No bothers to pull him aside and say “Michael, what are you exactly?” The kids just take it as is and we’re supposed to say “this is fine.”

Honestly, it was hard to sit through this segment again. The entire time I wanted to skip straight to “Smooth Criminal” and turn off the rest. While I was willing to never question anything in the first segments, I couldn’t suspend my disbelief here. Perhaps if there was a flowing story to follow it wouldn’t be so bad. But there is little explanation for anything we see. The “Smooth Criminal” video itself is great, minus the weird breakdown, but the “story” around it is mind boggling. Jackson isn’t the worst actor, but he’s by no means amazing. The highlight is when he turns into the ultimate transformer. The special effects haven’t aged all that well, but there’s something about it that’s still unsettling, especially when he starts shooting crotch rockets. Otherwise, it plays out like bad drug trip starring the King of Pop.

Moonwalker is a unique, yet weird experience tailor made for Jackson fans. For casual fans or anyone who doesn’t like him, it looks like a vain, unintelligible film. It’s a long ad for the Bad album, fans will find it a fun trek through Jackson’s career and his imagination. While the first half of the movie shows off the creative flair the singer had videos, even though it all falls apart with the bigger “story.” It makes sense for Jackson to come up with something so bonkers because it sounds like something a ten-year-old would dream up. This is a movie you don’t take seriously. You’re there to enjoy the cool visuals, Jackson’s dancing, and the kick ass music. If you take it for what it is, you’ll find an anthology that’s a blast to watch especially with friends.

Dangerous – Michael Jackson

Release Year: 1991

Rating: 8.5/10

There’s no question whether or not Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Bad are amazing albums. The former is still the best selling album of all time. Many people have come close to beating the record, but no one has done it yet. Even though his follow up, Dangerous, was another top seller, it doesn’t seem to get as much attention as the previous two. There could be several reasons for this: plastic surgery, drugs, and allegations the media chose to focus on. The album represents an era of change for the singer. He experimented with a new sound and took on themes that went beyond gushy love songs.

At the time, this album was unlike any Jackson had done before. One of the biggest changes is the prominence of New Jack Swing sound on just about all of the songs. This can be heard on tracks “Can’t Let Her Get Away,” “Jam,” and “She Drives Me Wild.” Elements of pop still exist, but there’s also a heavy influence of funk, rap, and R&B. Jackson further expanded his rap influences by having Heavy D and Wrex N Effect do a verse on a few songs. This sound, while can be dated at times, gives the music a more aggressive, harder hitting vibe than before. It even changed his vocals a bit which were in a lower register and sounded harsher than on past releases. With this album, Jackson also takes on more mature themes.

Jackson’s music has always had messages about changing the world through peace and love, but here he tackles heavier issues like societal ills and racism. “Why You Wanna Trip On Me?” is two-fold; it’s aimed at critics who are obsessed with the singer’s personal life, but also wonders why they aren’t focusing on bigger problems at hand like the homeless or disease. “Jam” also finds Jackson lamenting the world’s problems and how being good to one another seems to be disappearing. But the song where these themes ring out the most is the ballad “Heal the World.” The somber track has a simple message: make the world a better place for our children. He even drives the point home with samples of kids playing and singing the hook at the end. It’s a thoughtful song and one of Jackson’s greatest ballads that still rings true today.

Jackson addresses racial issues on the infectious and popular “Black or White.” The single finds the pop icon delving into rock again with Slash doing the opening riff even though he’s credited with playing on the entire song. Either way, the guitar on this track is killer. As soon as you hear it, it makes you want to bust out your best air guitar moves. Jackson sings sweetly about equality and how the color of your skin doesn’t matter. It’s not until the hard hitting bridge that his anger comes out. The song does a 180 and gets aggressive with Jackson yelling “I ain’t ‘fraid of no sheets.” Then there’s the rap by one of his producers, which is kind of cheesy and dated, but forgivable since the rest of the song is so good. It’s an amazing song that addresses racial issues without beating listeners over the head with its message.

Just like his other releases, this album is made up of successful and classic Jackson hits. “In the Closet” finds the singer being more sexual as he talks about lovers keeping their relationship secret. The music has a cool, slinky groove and he sings in a hushed manner amping up the sexual nature of the song. It’s still weird to think of him as a sexual person, but the song proves irresistible especially when he sings “She wants to get it/aw, she wants to get it.” “Remember the Time” is a slick, exotic sounding track where Jackson sounds playful as he reflects on a relationship. It’s more in line with his pop nature, but still has the New Jack Swing influence all over it. Just like most of his songs, it’s catchy, great to dance to, and fun. A standout single from the album.

Give In To Me” and “Who is It” are the most underrated singles to come from the record. The former finds the singer hooking up with Slash for a rock ballad. Jackson’s vocals come off as more aggressive and fiery, while the sad droning guitar riff sways listeners. It’s often been compared to “Dirty Diana” with its rock feel and subject matter. The two do have seductive vibes with the blazing guitar riffs, but the singer seems more somber on this track. He also takes the rock sound further offering up some diversity on the primarily New Jack Swing album. With the latter song, there’s something cool and sleek about it.

Who Is It” opens with eerie singing denoting something epic followed by a thudding, booming bass that hits you right in the gut. Jackson’s singing sounds more emotional as his start/stop style makes it seem like he was in the middle of crying. Though it’s been compared to “Billie Jean” for its woman-done-him-wrong subject, it’s a stellar song that explores the singer’s darker side.

It wouldn’t be a Michael Jackson album without ballads and there are a good handful here. The best out of the bunch is the beautiful and heartfelt “Will You Be There?” With the soft music and the choir humming at the beginning, it sounds like a religious hymn as Jackson sings about finding someone or something to lean on and make him stronger. The bridge seems tied to the singer’s personal life as he sings “Everyone’s Taking Control Of Me/Seems That The World’s/Got A Role For Me/I’m So Confused/Will You Show To Me.” At the end, the choir makes a return completing the religious feel as Jackson adlibs sounding like he’s going to church. It’s one of those songs with the ability to make you cry if played at the right moment.

While the other ballads are good, they don’t compare to this one. “Keep the Faith” is actually the most dated and weakest song the album. The music makes it sound like a dated gospel track. The music is so obviously 90s ensuring the song hasn’t aged well. And if you’re not a fan of gospel music the song won’t be all that appealing. The message is thoughtful, but it’s the most forgettable track on the record. “Gone too Soon” is a heartbreaking track dedicated to Jackson’s friend Ryan White, who was ostracized at a young age due to his AIDS diagnosis. He later died at the age of 18. It’s a simple, bare bones song with Jackson’s soft singing and light music. But the song is only harder to listen to now since it can be easily applied to the singer’s death. Usher actually sang the tune at Jackson’s memorial and broke out in tears. Even though it’s beautiful, it can be hard to hear.

The album closes with “Dangerous” another underrated track from Jackson’s catalog. Similar to other songs, it represents a new sound for the singer. It begins with mechanical noises before the punchy upbeat music comes on. The entire track is slick especially with Jackson singing in a lower register to complete the seductive mood going on. The vibe is perfect since it feels like the music actually has an air of danger to it. It’s one of his most proactive songs and a stand out from an already stellar album.

Dangerous represents a new era for Michael Jackson. He not only experimented with different sounds to fit with the trend of the time, he tackled heavier themes such as racism. The New Jack Swing sound is dated at times but otherwise shows Jackson was ahead of the curve. This album is another hit in Jackson’s catalog, yet doesn’t receive as much praise as his other work. The record isn’t flawless and some of the songs run together, but it’s still has songs that are now considered classics. It shows a different side of the singer, one that was more aggressive and harsh. No matter how you see it, the album is another stand out hit for Jackson.

The painful experience of The Jackson 5ive

There’s no doubt the Jackson 5 were insanely popular in the ’70s and just like any popular musician during the time, they got their own cartoon. The show follows Tito, Michael, Marlon, Jermaine, and Jackie on their wacky adventures doing everyday things like saving snakes, traveling to Wonderland, and being adopted by gorillas and they still find the time to perform a song or two. In other words, it’s ridiculous. The only involvement the Jackson’s actually had were providing their pictures for the intro and some of their songs.

Out of the three episode I could tolerate the worse one had to be the pilot recounting how the Jacksons got started. It all starts with Diana Ross not being able to perform because a pink snake is in her room. It’s not doing anything, just sitting in her flowers and it apparently has the ability to resist all attempts at capture. Of course, the snake belongs to Michael. For some reason they decided to make some of his pets characters, including two mice named Ray and Charles. That’s smart writing right there. Michael saves the snake, Diana invites them to stay for her show, and they decide to randomly perform on stage. This is where we’re treated to a poorly animated video for “ABC,” a song we already heard during the intro. She likes the song, they got a record deal, the end.

Ray, Charles, and Rosie just in case you were wondering

To be fair it’s not the most terrible cartoon out there, but it is pretty bad. The animation looks like initial sketches that someone was too lazy to finish. Backgrounds look hastily drawn and a lot of the same animation is reused, especially their dancing animation. It’s pretty bad, but the 70s weren’t exactly known for their innovative animation. And for some reason all the Jackson’s look like they have overbites. Speaking of the guys, the voice actors don’t try to hide the fact they’re reading straight off a script. It’s like they’re not even trying to act. To make things even worse there’s a laugh track. A really bad, really loud laugh track that drowns out the audio and comes after every lame joke.

And speaking of the jokes, these are some of the gems found in this episode alone: “We gotta get that snake back before those cats done there do him up bad.” “This is the first time I’ve ever autographed a snake.” “Crazy doors here in Detroit!” “Can you let us out? Up here in the air conditioning. It’s kind of chilly.” “I don’t care if they’re the Beatles rolled up into five, I never wanna see them again!” “And you know something Tito, we just grewed up!”

The second episode finds the guys trying to save a forest and their message is pretty loud and clear. The same wacky adventures happen: the guys get into trouble and try to use their “wit” and crazy disguises to get them out of it. What I noticed in this episode was Michael can talk to animals. He interprets what a bear says and no one bats an eye. I know he loved animals, but maybe this was going a little far. Again, we are treated to two songs by the group. Think I’m starting to see a pattern here. Next, I watched the “Michael in Wonderland” episode because it’s the one I remember when I was a kid and man is it weird. There’s a scene were Jermaine is half man, half cat and can’t stop dancing. That’s an image I never wanted to see. If you thought the videos for the songs were weird, the ones here are down right trippy. There’s even a scene where Michael eats a cookie and goes on an acid trip that hurts your brain and your eyes.

It’s clear that the show was made to sell records. The Jacksons’ music is constantly playing. Even the background music are melodies from their other songs. A medley of their hits plays both at the start and the end of the show. It gets old really fast. Each episode follows the same pattern: the Jacksons learn about a problem, they try to solve it and get in the trouble in the process, and find time to sing two songs. And since their pictures are showed at the beginning you would think they would have some more involvement with the show. But even if they were the show probably would’ve been bad. Just look at their variety show from 1976. Same terrible jokes, questionable skits, and hammy performances. If you really want to check out this travesty of a show, you can watch the entire first season on Amazon Prime. It’s good for some laughs, but you’ll find it difficult to make it past the first few episodes. I sure did.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, everyone! Whether you’re going to some bitchin’ parties or chilling at home with Freddy and Jason, have a happy and safe Halloween. Don’t get too  spooked by ghouls and things that go bump in the night and don’t get sick from a candy coma.

If you’re choosing to stay in this year, watch these classic Michael Jackson videos: