What a difference two years makes!
In the summer of 1995, Sony launched Michael Jackson's double CD "HIStory" with a $30 million promotional budget and attendant media hype that had an immediate impact -- the album opened at No. 1 -- but not a lasting one. While "HIStory" has sold 13 million copies worldwide, only 2 million of those sales came Stateside, a clear tumble from the throne for the King of Pop.
It gets worse. Jackson's "Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix" (Epic), which includes five new songs and remixes of eight tracks from "HIStory," opened at No. 24 last week with sales of only 35,000 copies. Why? Part of it may be lingering queasiness following Jackson's multi-million-dollar settlement in 1994 of a civil lawsuit involving allegations of sexual molestation of a young boy. There is also the question of public reaction about Jackson's brief marriage to Lisa Marie Presley, his second marriage to Debbie Rowe and the circumstances of his late-blooming fatherhood. But ultimately the new album's fate lies in its grooves, which are as overly slick as they are familiar.
Apparently aimed at Jackson's dance-oriented fans, the new songs on "Blood on the Dance Floor " seem of a piece with the last album's "Scream," a terse industrial funk duet featuring the first teaming of Michael and Janet Jackson. For "Scream Louder (Flyte Time Remix)," original producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have introduced the rhythm track from Sly & the Family Stone's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" -- burbling under the original melody, but it simply clutters the sound without sharpening it. Of the remixes, the best are the "2 Bad (Refugee Camp Mix)," courtesy of the Fugees' Wyclef Jean and Pras; Frankie Knuckles' house thump on the ballad "You Are Not Alone" and David Morales' lively "This Time Around."
The new songs sound familiar, like "HIStory" outtakes, though the sexual paranoia harks back to "Billie Jean." The taut title track, written and produced with Teddy Riley, could be a cautionary fable for the safe-sex movement ("every hot man is out takin' a chance"), but Jackson's lashing out at "Susie," who has "got to get me" and who "ain't your friend," feels personal. So do the sex funk missive "Superfly Sister" and the album's best new offering, "Morphine." The latter may allude to Jackson's addiction to painkillers after plastic surgery, or to the narcotics of celebrity and religion. "Morphine," apparently told from the drug's point of view and featuring both the Andrae Crouch Singers and an orchestra, alternates between hard-edged industrial sections and quieter, more reflective bridges including a very strange paean to Demerol that's close to product placement.
The other new songs, "Is It Scary" and "Ghosts," seem old and familiar. In the first, a Jam-Lewis collaboration with echoes of "Who Is It?," Jackson defensively challenges: "If you want to see eccentric oddities/ I'll be grotesque before your eyes."
"Ghosts" is another new jack swing collaboration with Teddy Riley for a similarly titled short film. It is a bit unsettling, particularly when Jackson spits out this line: "Who gave you the right to share my family tree?" Intriguingly, while the CD booklet includes dedications to Elizabeth Taylor, the family of Charlie Chaplin, Elton John, Jackson's parents and fans, and Sony executives, there's no mention of, much less dedication to, Debbie Rowe, Jackson's current wife and the mother of his child (who is not mentioned either). She seems to be out of the picture. To hear a Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and enter 8151. CAPTION: For Michael Jackson, "HIStory" hasn't repeated itself -- or even come close.