An attempt to offer critical perspective on music that the author loves uncritically.
Vogel’s goal is worthy: to rescue Jackson’s artistic legacy from the distortions of the tabloid press, a celebrity-obsessed culture and the aftershocks of his shocking death. Terming his subject “the archetypical misunderstood artist,” the author provides comprehensive context, detail and analysis of every Jackson solo album and every individual track (sometimes pages worth on a single song), as well as cuts that have remained unreleased. Vogel admits that he “frequently felt out of my depth” and “quickly realized that my role would necessarily be as much editor as author.” The research is impressive, but the book would have benefited from better editing and more critical nuance. As he quotes a half-dozen or more reviews of an album (or track), he embraces those that are positive and discredits anything negative as an inability to listen “objectively,” whatever that might mean in the field of criticism. His own escalation of superlatives and comparisons approaches delirium: “Off the Wall did for R&B what the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds did for rock”; “ ‘Man in the Mirror’ stands with classics such as John Lennon’s ‘Imagine,’ Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Goin’ On,” and the Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’ as one of the great social anthems of the modern age.” By the time readers reach this statement—“HIStory makes a strong case for being Jackson’s magnum opus—and one of the best albums by any artist in the 1990s”—the author’s perspective has become increasingly difficult to trust; it’s as if Vogel feels that overstatement is a necessary corrective to the critical slights the artist has suffered.
Some fans will appreciate the author’s seriousness of purpose (which others will find tedious), but the book has more value as a reference work than a critical study.