Michael Jackson ? Stranger In Moscow
Label: Epic EPC 663787 5
Format: CD, Single, CD2
1 Stranger In Moscow (Album Version) 5:44
2 Stranger In Moscow (Hanis Extended Chill Hop Mix (R&B) 6:01
3 Stranger In Moscow (Hanis Num Club Mix) 10:15
4 Stranger In Moscow (Basement Boys Radio Mix) 4:03
Remix Basement Boys, The
Vocals New Jersey Mass Choir*
5 Stranger In Moscow (Spensane Vocal Mix (R&B) 4:42
6 Stranger In Moscow (12″ Dance Club Mix) 8:18
Keyboards Gary Hudgins, Hoza Clowney
Remix Basement Boys, The
Vocals New Jersey Mass Choir*
Part 2 of 2 UK CD Singles.
“Stranger in Moscow” is the fifth and final single from Michael Jacksons album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I. The song was released worldwide in November 1996 but was not released in the United States until August 1997. The track was written by Jackson in September 1993, at the height of the highly publicized child abuse accusations made against him, while on tour in Moscow.
The songs music video depicts the lives of six individuals, including Jackson, who are left isolated and disconnected from the world around them.
Context, production and music:
In the book The Many Faces of Michael Jackson, author Lee Pinkerton, like many other reviewers, noted that HIStorys album tracks like “Stranger in Moscow” were Jackson’s response to recent events in his personal life. In 1993, the relationship between Jackson and the press soured entirely when he was accused of child sexual abuse. Although never charged with a crime, Jackson was subject to intense media scrutiny while the criminal investigation took place. Complaints about the coverage and media included using sensational headlines to draw in readers and viewers when the content itself did not support the headline, accepting stories of Jacksons alleged criminal activity in return for money, accepting leaked material from the police investigation in return for money paid, deliberately using pictures of Jacksons appearance at its worst, a lack of objectivity and using headlines that strongly implied Jacksons guilt.
At the time, Jackson said of the media reaction, “I will say I am particularly upset by the handling of the matter by the incredible, terrible mass media. At every opportunity, the media has dissected and manipulated these allegations to reach their own conclusions”. The entertainer began taking painkillers, Valium, Xanax and Ativan to deal with the stress of the allegations made against him. A few months after the allegations became news, Jackson had lost approximately 10 pounds (4.5 kg) in weight and had stopped eating. Jacksons health had deteriorated to the extent that he canceled the remainder of his Dangerous World Tour and went into rehabilitation.Jackson booked the whole fourth floor of the clinic, and was put on a Valium IV to wean him from painkillers. The singers spokesperson told reporters that Jackson was “barely able to function adequately on an intellectual level”. While in the clinic, Jackson took part in group and one-on-one therapy sessions.
When Jackson left the US to go into rehabilitation, the media showed the singer little sympathy. The Daily Mirror held a “Spot the Jacko” contest, offering readers a trip to Walt Disney World if they could correctly predict where the entertainer would appear next. A Daily Express headline read, “Drug Treatment Star Faces Life on the Run”, while a News of the World headline accused Jackson of being a fugitive. These tabloids also falsely alleged that Jackson had travelled to Europe to have cosmetic surgery that would make him unrecognizable on his return. Geraldo Rivera set up a mock trial, with a jury made up of audience members, even though Jackson had not been charged with a crime.
“Stranger in Moscow” is an R&B ballad, penned by Jackson in 1993, during his Dangerous World Tour in Moscow. It was originally written as a poem by Jackson, then it was adapted into a song. A background guitar was played by Steve Lukather while keyboards, synthesizers and bass are credited to David Paich and Steve Porcaro. Originally, HIStory was planned as a greatest hits release, with a few new tracks. However, Jackson and his collaborators were so pleased with the result of “Stranger in Moscow” that they decided to give HIStory a full studio album as the second disc. Jackson used elements of Russian imagery and symbolism to help promote the concept of fear and alienation in the track, in a similar fashion to Simply Reds album Love and the Russian Winter several years later. It concludes with a narrative, spoken in Russian, by a KGB interrogator. The narrative, translated into English is, “Why have you come from the west? Confess! To steal the great achievements of the people, the accomplishments of the workers…”.
Music and critical reception:
Stranger in Moscow has a tempo of 66 beats per minute, making it one of Jacksons slowest songs. The song was critically acclaimed by critics and music producers. James Hunter of Rolling Stone commented “[Jackson is] angry, miserable, tortured, inflammatory, furious about what he calls, in stranger in Moscow’, a swift and sudden fall from grace’…HIStory feels like the work of someone with a bad case of Thriller nostalgia. Occasionally this backward focus works to Jacksons advantage: On stranger in Moscow’ he remembers the synth-pop ’80s while constructing wracked claims of danger and loneliness that rival any Seattle rockers pain.”
Jon Pareles of The New York Times stated, “The ballads are lavishly melodic. stranger In Moscow’, with odd lyrics like stalins tomb won’t let me be,’ has a gorgeous chorus for the repeated question “How does it feel?”. Fred Shuster of the Daily News of Los Angeles described it as, “a lush, gorgeous minor-key ballad with one of the albums catchiest choruses”
Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic noted of HIStory, “Jackson produces some well-crafted pop that ranks with his best material…stranger in Moscow’ is one of his most haunting ballads. Longtime collaborator Bruce Swedien, has described “Stranger in Moscow” as one of the best songs Jackson had ever done. Patrick Macdonald of The Seattle Times described “Stranger in Moscow” as “a pretty ballad interspersed with sounds of rain.”Further praise came in 2005 when it was felt that the song had successfully portrayed “eerie loneliness” and was characterized as beautiful by Josephine Zohny of PopMatters. Tom Molley of the Associated Press described it as “[a] ethereal and stirring description of a man wounded by a swift and sudden fall from grace’ walking in the shadow of the Kremlin”.
Chris Willman of Los Angeles Times stated “stranger in Moscow’, is a step removed from the focused paranoia of much of the rest of the album, more akin to the deeper, fuzzier dread of a past perennial like ‘Billie Jean’. Jackson imagines himself alone and adrift in a psychic Russia, pre-glasnost, hunted by an unseen KGB: ‘Here abandoned in my fame / Armageddon of the brain’, he sings in the somber, constricted verses, before a sweeping coda kicks up four minutes in and the stalkee suddenly breaks his cool to wail about a desolate, inconsolable loneliness. Here, in this song, is the real geniusand probably real personhoodof Michael Jackson”.
Rod Temperton, one of Jacksons songwriters from his earlier career, believes that this is his best song.
Music video plot and influence:
Jackson walking the streets of the city in the music video.
The songs music video, directed by Nick Brandt, and shot in Los Angeles, is focused around six unrelated people living in a cityscape while the rest of the world moves around them in slow motion. The first half of the video introduces these figures. They are a man looking down at the city from his bedroom window, a woman sitting alone in a coffee shop, a homeless man lying on the damp street, a lone figure feeding pigeons, a boy ostracized from a game of baseball, and Jackson himself is the sixth figure, seen walking the city streets while he sings. Special effects are used to show birds and wasps flying, glass breaking and coffee spilling, all in slow motion.
In the second half of the scenario, heavy rain descends on the city and the citizens try to flee, all again seen in slow motion. From the safety of shelter, the six “strangers” watch everyones futile attempts to avoid the sudden change in weather. Eventually they decide to go outside, where they look up at the sky and allow the rain to soak them. The video ends with Michael whipping his hair. During this scene, you hear a voiceing softly in Russian, a reference to Moscow.
The music video also appear on Jacksons video albums HIStory on Film, Volume II and Michael Jacksons Vision.
Jacksons biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli, has stated that the video is based on Jacksons real life. He used to walk alone at night looking for new friends, even at the peak of his musical popularity. The 1980s saw him become deeply unhappy; Jackson explained, “Even at home, I’m lonely. I sit in my room sometimes and cry. Its so hard to make friends …I sometimes walk around the neighborhood at night, just hoping to find someone to talk to. But I just end up coming home”.