Thursday, 16 July 2009

Jackson preliminaries

Ghost at the feast, A. That is what one tends to feel like regarding the bizarre, enthralling and disturbing Jackson and the number of intriguing pieces of writing about him and what he may have represented:





Morley: (including languid thoughts from people such as Traceyanne from Camera Obscura. Swoon.)

I only came upon him in the Dangerous-and-onwards period, and few can surely pretend he was the same. So many projections, so little of a man there by the end. A media grotesque, an embodiment of celebrity / corporate culture and how it can corrupt. It was not the case in 1979, but then that was pre-Reagan; Funkadelic and Chic were mainstream, incipient hip-hop promised so much.

I will do a piece on Jackson's work, bringing in some of the wider context - not hoping to math the other articles above, just hoping to give my own necessarily partial assessment of the entire back catalogue. I feel I should know it more, and this is an ideal opportunity to explore it in more depth.

Draft impressions / prejudices / hypotheses:
  • Off the Wall the early pinnacle.
  • Heal the World and other follies
  • 'Stranger in Moscow' is great - worthy of the Pet Shop Boys as I think someone else once said.
  • Bad the most 'pop' album - an epitome of where he was at when at his biggest
  • Thriller over-exposed; I'm a bit bored by it, frankly. And it marked the crossover into corporate 'icon' and artist-as-advertisement to be projected all around the world.
  • Did he work well with Jam and Lewis? If not, who or what was to blame?
  • Is Janet not better? Surely nothing matches Control. Does his control go post-'Billie Jean', quality and artistry-wise.
  • His Chaplin fixation - compare and contrast his own career with Chaplin's.
  • Buying the Beatles's back catalogue - why?
  • Jarvis Cocker incident - hubris punctured...? Sets himself up as God, attacks the way the world has become but proposes no answers - the projection cannot break out of the system.
  • Why did he never attempt some proper techno madness? Or even something as out-there as Bablyon Zoo's 'Spaceman'?
  • He is not one of the great pop artists*, because he is bigger than that - he practically *is* pop culture itself, in all its complexity. (*e.g. Prince, Kate Bush, Abba - who clearly are)


  1. Never even heard Control. My favourite Janet song is The best things in life are free from circa 1992, I heard it 5 years later. And also there is one about ropes.

  2. Do listen to "Control"... It can be compared with the pop experimentation of Art of Noise, Yello and so much which was good at that time. Cut-ups of the human voice for brilliant effect, better than any 'live' singing.

    'Let's Wait Awhile' is of course gorgeous, but my current favourite is 'When I Think of You', chiming, awestruck, playful; 'bass', extended you-ou-ou's that point the way to Dizzee. Orchestra hits handled as deftly as the Pet Shop Boys.

  3. Buying the Beatle's back catalogue, in my opinion, reflects a facet of Jackson that has largely been obscured, by the looming media's obsession with who or what he really was. He was actually a very shrewd businessman (Taraborelli, 1992) cited in "Michael Jackson - the music and the madness". He was very public-media, savvy, indeed it has been suggested that the story of him and the hyperbaric oxygen chamber and his wish to buy the skeleton of the elephant man, circa 1987, were his own ideas, in order to boost publicity before the release of his "Bad" album in the September.

  4. Possibly so. This sense of business savvy clearly declined after then; though one can see as last as this decade his collaborations with Sean Paul and Akon might have been an echo of this. Of course, not so many people were buying it (literally).

    From a conversation yesterday in the pub, after a football kickabout, a friend and medical man remarked that the medication he was on each night *would never* be administered by the NHS on an ordinary ward - only for anaesthetic type effect in A&E, for example. Perhaps it says a lot about the power of celebrity - as well as the lack of medical ethics - that this could be allowed to happen...