Michael Jackson – Scream review
It is a somewhat tenuous exercise, 14 tracks of Halloween-themed songs which barely adhere to the concept beyond their titles – Blood On the Dancefloor, Torture, Dangerous, Scream – and the odd “chilling” interjection such as the wails at the start of This Place Hotel (aka Heartbreak Hotel from The Jacksons’ immaculate 1980 album, Triumph).
Thriller is here, and it deserves to be if only for that formation-dancing zombie video, and Ghosts does indeed refer to ghouls, but its lyric reads more like a study of someone haunted by negative emotions. Whether it was their intention or not, the compilers of this album have assembled a collection that speaks of horror in the wider meaning of the word: in terms of fear and loathing.
On his breakthrough set, Off The Wall, Jackson expressed rapture and heartache, and despite its multimillion sales, he was still more synonymous with pure unalloyed joy. Then came Thriller, and the success that it brought. Thriller, the album, was hardly a horror set, even in the most camp, Carry On Screaming! sense. Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, Baby Be Mine and the rest are many things, but expressions of terror they are not.
No, the idea of Jackson as repository for revulsion and associated feelings came in its wake, as fame and its attendant pressures started to affect him and his manias and psychoses began to seep out in all manner of strange ways. There was a sense of someone trying desperately to prove their strength, via a series of album and song titles – Bad, Dangerous, Invincible, Unbreakable – even as he became increasingly weakened by media intrusions.
“So Jackson had issues. We already knew that. Actually, as this compilation suggests, he had other problems, such as a deteriorating melodic and rhythmic acuity.” – Paul Lester
The most enlivening moments on this album are the ones from the 80s: This Place Hotel, Thriller, Leave Me Alone, the underrated Torture (from The Jacksons’ 1984 LP, Victory) and Somebody’s Watching Me, the latter actually a 1984 hit for Kenneth “Rockwell” Gordy, written by Rockwell, with Jackson on backing vocals.
By the 90s and Scream, notwithstanding the startling video, the music has become pedestrian. The same goes for Blood On The Dancefloor and Ghosts, and there are few worthy additions to his canon from his final decade, not if these choices – Threatened, Invincible and the posthumous Xscape – are any measure. Which, considering Jackson’s peerless reputation as an artist, really is frightening.