Michael Jackson's most-maligned album is, without a doubt, 1995's HIStory. It was sort of designed to fail, as Jackson's record label spent millions and millions of dollars on the sort of promotion reserved only for the most gigantic of summer blockbuster movies. There were short teaser films. There were statues of Jackson floated down rivers in Eastern Bloc countries. There was the most expensive music video ever made in "Scream." To add to that, the actual album was a bloated two-disc set that appeared to be Jackson casting himself as a living legend. Even though everybody had pretty much agreed that he was in fact a legend, it always rubs people the wrong way when you declare yourself to be larger than life. Also, that gimmicky title didn't help.
But taken in isolation, the second disc of HIStory is actually an excellent post-New Jack Swing R&B fusion album. (The first disc is a hits collection, and though it's incomplete, it still has "Bad" on it.) "Scream" is a lively little slice of metal guitars and dance beats which seemed to predict the electronica boom that didn't hit the United States until 1997. "They Don't Care About Us" got in some trouble for having anti-Semitic lyrics (remember when people got upset over song lyrics?), but it's a fascinating little piece of aggro-disco.
Actually, a lot of HIStory is pretty aggro — though there are plenty of ballads (including the R. Kelly-penned hit "You Are Not Alone"), there aren't a whole lot of traditional dance tracks like "Billie Jean." The closest it comes is "This Time Around," which is more of a traditional New Jack Swing track that features a guest spot by Biggie Smalls.
Most of the album fits snugly into the shake-and-riff tunes like "Bad," and that's part of the reason why it's great. Jackson seems genuinely unhinged, as though he knew that he could do absolutely no wrong and could tap into whatever his urges were. It's by far his most paranoid lyric sheet, especially on the excellent "Tabloid Junkie."
It's very possible that HIStory represents who Jackson really is (or at least who he was in the early '90s during his marriage to Lisa Marie Presley and having already faced harsh legal allegations). Nearly 15 years later, it should be easy to divorce yourself from the hype that brought the record into existence and just enjoy it for what it is: A fascinating document of a star struggling to find himself.