Michael Jackson ‘Scream’ – Review

9 Oct

It would be easy to be cynical about ‘Scream’, the spooky new Michael Jackson compilation, released just time for Halloween. But in fairness to Sony, they have been remarkably restrained when it comes to cashing in on MJ’s legacy, especially when you compare it to how other icons, such as Elvis and John Lennon, have been treated. This new compilation of songs are loosely grouped together around the theme of horror, and whilst the connection is, in some case, tenuous, it’s nice to see some of Jackson’s less well known songs (it’s all relative of course)  get some exposure.

A few almost seem to rise to the challenge, and radiate in this context. ‘Blood on the Dancefloor’, the tightly wound title track of a remix album from 1997, pops and fizzes between the more familiar (and always classic) ‘Thriller’ and the badly dated ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’. ‘Scream’ might also be something of a revelation for people who never ventured to listen to 1994’s mammoth (and mamothly underrated) ‘History’. Here placed alongside the relatively placid ‘Leave Me Alone’, its ferocity and raw honesty is capable of shattering any preconceptions about Michael Jackson being twee or childlike. The song’s mechanical malfunctions and terrorised soundscape, its industrial tones and heavy arrangements, become more noticeable on an album like this, that seeks to find the horror in the sublime.

Not all songs deserve such a necessary reappraisal. ‘Threatened’ was the weakest track on MJ’s weakest album, and on an album like this that includes several hit singles, it’s inadequacies are brought in to stark contrast. The same can be said for much of the final third; I doubt any fan is going to write impassioned defences of ‘Xscape’, ‘Unbreakable’ or ‘Dangerous.’ As catchy as they are, none of these songs rank in the top tier of Michael Jackson deep cuts. Then there are the classics that don’t quite make sense on the track listing. I can’t understand what ‘Leave Me Alone’ and ‘Dirty Diana’ are doing here when perhaps the most blatantly eerie song in his back catalogue, ‘Is It Scary’, is relegated to a bonus mash up remix. And I’ve always found ‘Off the Wall’ – with the high pitched cackle at the start – kind of creepy; I wonder why it wasn’t added, particularly when nothing else from his late 70’s heyday is included on the album.

I don’t doubt that MJ would have sanctioned the release of ‘Scream’. After all, he always knew a good business opportunity when he saw one and he once seriously entertained the idea of doling a full blown sequel to thriller. But that doesn’t make this an essential listen. A fun one for sure, but not essential. Perhaps by its very nature, the album has the distinct vibe of something that had to be padded out. ‘Torture’, a mildly odd song from the largely cobbled together, post-Thriller Jacksons album ‘Victory’ sounds laboured and contrite compared to the material Jackson was saving for his solo albums at this point. The earlier Jacksons cut, ‘This Place Hotel’, is much better – a song as slinky and sly as it is spooky. And that’s kind of the argument that the best songs on ‘Scream’ make; they aren’t macabre or scary simply for the sake of it – in MJ’s mind fear is just another means of getting you to the dance floor.




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