Monday 13 June 2005

Smooth Criminal

Watching Michael Jackson Moonwalk to freedom from the Santa Maria courtroom gave me pause to reflect on this once enigmatic, and revered, pop icon. Where does he go from here?

Second acts are rare and Michael Jackson's altered popular music forever with the release of Thriller (1982). Motown 25: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1983) was a once in a lifetime moment and one Michael Jackson is unlikely to reprise. The success of Thriller, its singles and ground breaking videos was a landmark achievement and music producer Nile Rodgers was famously quoted as saying "There's the music industry before Thriller and there's the music industry after Thriller." An overstatement? I don't think so.

This commercial juggernaut had a negative effect on Michael Jackson who became obsessed with the notion of unit sales for Thriller's first sequel and surgical transformation (America is a shrine to solipsism). He expected to sell 100 million copies of Bad (1987) and crafted songs around the technology of the day (arguably inspired if somewhat dating). At the time I bought a CD player in order to own the bonus track (a concept taken foregranted now) Leave Me Alone.

Citing creative differences with Quincy Jones during the shelved recording of Decade (footwear giant LA Gear signed a $60 million endorsement deal, "Unstoppable", to promote the album and Love Hewitt starred in TV Spots), Michael enlisted Teddy Riley. Dangerous (1991) merged R&B, Rock and Pop with New Jack Swing. The influence of the 'Dangerous sound' can be heard in 2005.

Subsequent album releases were overshadowed by the Jordan Chandler scandal and Michael Jackson's marriage to Lisa Marie Presley. This culminated in a serious financial dilution of Jackson's hits collection (at one time more valuable than any other artist) and the rush release of HIStory Past, Present and Future Book 1 (1995). Disc 2 spawned the classics Scream, They Don't Care About Us and Stranger In Moscow.

Invincible (2001) was hailed as the comeback album. Yet, the inclusion of too many producers (including Darkchild) culminated in a stagnant sound and at great expense to Sony ($20 million). Michael's mantra became "Sony sucks", which recalled George Michael's "Phony"!

After a period of R&R, he will need to sort out his finances and begin to liquidate his assets (perhaps selling his remaining investment in the Beatles catalogue to Sony). His Sony recording contract expires in December, but better the devil you know Michael. He'll have to renegotiate, but with far less generous terms than in 1991. Mariah Carey and George Michael discovered virtual obscurity following splits with Sony. The latter artist, ironically, returned to the fold in 2004.

Jackson should consider performing again. A new studio album produced by Quincy Jones backed by those alluring greatest hits, showcased either on tour or join fellow Sony artist Celine Dion in Las Vegas (the perfect setting).

MJJ as 'celebrity brand' is dead. Yet, the gloved-one may get the last laugh with the power of song (his unique selling point) and see his back catalogue on UMD (Universal Media Disk).

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