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Jul 13

MICHAEL JACKSON – “You Are Not Alone”

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#726, 9th September 1995

Jackson Alone Whatever grim spirits drove Michael Jackson, they were hovering around his music long before HIStory – a double album that, through hubris or masochism (or commercial good sense) directly linked his greatest songs to his newest. There’s terror and paranoia to spare on the hits, even before Jordan Chandler’s accusations against Jackson curdled his public profile: the HIStory songs were darker still. Whether it was the agony of wrongful accusation or the cold horror of discovery motivating Jackson – or just a development of his existing demons – his music around this time is a sea of sorrow and fear.

This applies even to a track like “You Are Not Alone”, not written by Jackson, but which ends up sounding as diffused, sad, and lost as any of his own songs. As an attempt at tenderness and comfort, it’s hardly convincing. For all that this period of Jackson can be a tough listen, its best songs are as compelling as anything he’d done since Thriller. But they’re usually the ones where he sounds most adrift or angry, not the ones where he’s trying to persuade someone – or himself -that things are going to be OK.

Glimpses of the Jackson his 80s fans loved poke through, which just makes this trudge all the sadder. His voice hasn’t lost any of its sensitivity, and the “whispered three words” break is a brief and lovely glimpse of the old Jackson balladry, the tender, courtly singer who made “Human Nature” or “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”. But the rest is suffocating, an endless snowfall of smothering triple stresses – “YOU are NOT a LONE, I’LL be HERE for YOU”, on and on and on, with the brutal truck driver’s gear change before the final chorus giving the impression of a ghastly forced smile. The situation of the song seems to slide – a departed lover? a bereavement? a reconciliation? – but whatever R Kelly intended it’s hard to hear it as sung to anyone but its singer. His hiccups and vocal tics – also carried over from happier times – now seem like Gollum-esque sobs, and his shift to his growlier register over the fade underscores how badly this song fails to soothe: the last we hear of Jackson is a miserable plea of “GOTTA STOP BEING ALONE!” howled low in the mix.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    Ed on 12 Jul 2013 #

    @40 – “One effect of the accusations was to radicalise the fans a bit.”

    And how. This piece about fans following the case over Jackson’s death, now being heard in court in LA, opens a window onto the lives of the hardcore:

    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-jackson-nation-20130627-dto,0,2758379.htmlstory

  2. 52
    Ed on 12 Jul 2013 #

    There’s a great passage at the end of Mark S’s piece in ‘The Resistible Rise…’ (see #9, #16), where he wonders about what will happen now the hellhounds have escaped from Jackson’s head and found homes in bilions of others. (Apologies for the crude paraphrase from memory.)

    The answer, apparently, is that like Obi Wan Kenobi or The Master, he’ll be everywhere.

    To name a few examples:

    He’s in that trial in LA, which has been full of glum details about his mental and physical condition in his final years.

    He’s in the new Justin Timberlake song, inevitably:
    http://www.hitfix.com/news/justin-timberlakes-bouncy-new-song-take-back-the-night-listen

    Increasingly, he’s in Justin Bieber:
    http://www.tmz.com/2013/06/21/justin-bieber-monkey-jet-miami-delay/

    He’s in ‘Random Access Memories’, as an absence. In part it’s an attempt to remake ‘Off The Wall’ / ‘Thriller’ with Jackson’s urgency replaced by Pharrell Williams’ casual self-confidence.

    And he’s in this, which might be terrible, but might be fun. I can’t tell. And it does have ‘Stranger in Moscow’:
    http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2013/may/24/michael-jackson-one-cirque-du-soleil-best-and-incl/#axzz2Ynw7naEu

  3. 53
    Ed on 12 Jul 2013 #

    @52 Erm, ‘The Resistible *Demise*…’, that should be.

  4. 54
    Tom on 12 Jul 2013 #

    #54 he needs a Greil Marcus figure to pull together / excavate / spin fairy tales around all the various strands of culture he’s spun out into. I’m still emotionally very tempted by the idea that he’s a break-point figure, a la Elvis, that pre-Michael, or rather pre-Thriller pop is a foreign era. But things are rarely that simple.

  5. 55
    punctum on 12 Jul 2013 #

    #54: be patient, I haven’t got to him yet.

  6. 56

    That Old Weird Neverland

  7. 57
    Dan Quigley on 12 Jul 2013 #

    Wichita @33: I’d somehow never seen that before, so many, many thanks! Wish R had written something more in this ‘Trapped in the Closet’ vein for Jackson than the track under discussion, although the desperate, almost free-tempo ad-libs(?) in YANA’s fade-out – a disquieting echo of the “Just look over your shoulder” moments in ‘I’ll Be There’ – go some way to balancing the stevia sweetness of the chorus.

  8. 58
    Kylie on 12 Jul 2013 #

    #15 I sang that on the playground too, haha!

  9. 59
    Ed on 13 Jul 2013 #

    Panstick Traces

  10. 60
    Patrick Mexico on 13 Jul 2013 #

    If there’s anything in this song’s defence it was that it wasn’t the chart hit of 1995 with the most monotonous chord structure – Enya’s Anywhere Is, well, is.

  11. 61
    Conrad on 16 Jul 2013 #

    This song reminds me of HMV in the days when I still lived in london, still bought CDs regularly, and enjoyed wondering around the oxford circus branch on a sunday morning before it got too busy.

    In fact so often did I do this that I soon realised I was hearing the same 3 or 4 songs on loop every sunday before midday, and this was always the one that played immediately before the tills opened! And it always made me feel slighly queasy. I’m not sure I liked any of the HMV looped selection. From memory, Losing My Religion was another.

  12. 62
    ciaran on 19 Jul 2013 #

    Not much going on here.The usual MJ slowie release from an album with more lively fare elsewhere.3.As boring as the other 70s/80s stars Number 1 in early 95 Cher,Hynde,Neneh and Clapton

    History was a big deal at the time but little stands out now.Scream was truly terrible.A complete waste of money that.

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