Sound — 8
Michael Jacksons 1995 "History" was originally intended to be just a greatest hits compilation, but having written the melancholic masterpiece "Stranger in Moscow", he decided to make it a double set with disc one being the hits and disc two being new material. Since everyone knows about the hits, my review will center on disc two. The best material is prodominantly ballads. The moving "You are not alone", powerhouse "Earth song", beautifully bleak, underrated "Stranger in Moscow" and cover of classic "Smile"; even the sickly, self-pitying "Childhood" may grow on you if you let it. Less remarkable, with the exception of "Scream", "DS" and "this time around" are the uptempo songs, which continue in the same flavour as previous album "Dangerous" but less fresh and high impact. Thats not to say that the likes of "Tabloid Junkie" and "2BAD" are terrible tracks, they just weren't essential, making "History" the first Jackson album to be bloated by some filler. Having said that, the best music on "History" really is the best of his career, comparing well with the bar set by disc one. Production-wise, Jackson continues to be larger than life on this album, with exquisite attention to detail on atmospheric tracks like "Stranger in Moscow", "Scream" and "Earth song", which soung huge, as does the whole record. Rock fans may also enjoy the Beatles cover "Come together", which is a little more funked up, catchy "DS" and "They don't really care about us", all of which feature fairly standard Slash guitar work.
Lyrics — 9
History was Jacksons first album after the child molestation allegations, and hence the record thematically addresses this, feeling quite confrontational on "Scream" and "They don't really care about us", and reflective and remorseful on "Stranger in Moscow". "DS" is a not so thinly veiled attack on attorney Tom Sneddon, Jacksons greatest enemy, and "Money", although musically one of the blander tracks, lyrically is a gem that attacks materialism and the evil of money better than most artistic efforts I can think of ( no it is not a cover of the Pink Floyd song). Jacksons self-obsession, self-pitying and paranoia in his lyrics are one of the main areas of scrutiny for the album. I guess it is as annoying as effective after a while, but who can resist a tortured soul? "Childhood" and less obviously "Little Susie" seem to be autobiographical, remorsing over the soul-destroying existence of a child star.
Overall Impression — 8
For my conclusion, I will take into account disc one for the first time, and ask: is this the best greatest hits option for casual fans? Well, no. The Essential collection is far more comprehensive, including his Jackson 5 days, but you will miss out on "Scream" and "Stranger in Moscow" if you opt for that. Is disc two an interesting record? Well it is somewhere between excellent and overblown, an attempt at epic that doen't always hit the mark and make "HIStory". Those who liked his earlier work may have a mixed response, and those who like the New Jack swing sound may do a little better with "Dangerous", although they will still do well with History. It is a halfway house between commiting to buying a Jackson studio album and simply owning the hits of your favourite guilty pleasure.