Jackson's back with a pounds 1m launch

David Lister looks at the extravagant and eccentric hullabaloo over a pop superstar
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The Independent Online
How would you like us to launch your new album? Michael Jackson's record company asked the modest superstar. "Build a statue of me," the humble one replied.

As one Sony executive told me yesterday: "It was a brilliant idea, but I hope it doesn't catch on. We've got a lot of four- and five-piece bands. It could get kind of expensive."

It already is. This was the most extravagant and eccentric launch of a record ever. A 30ft-high steel truss, glass fibre statue of the troubled superstar was placed on a launch and towed down the Thames. Tower Bridge was raised to let it pass, and it will moor by the Tower of London for a week, before "touring the country", the ultimate virtual reality rock tour.

Jackson, dressed as a granite-coloured futuristic policeman, does not faze the harbour master of the Pool of London, who was happy to have it for around pounds 1,000 a day. But I understand that the original intention to moor Michael opposite the House of Commons was vetoed by a private ruling from the Speaker herself.

The statue, sculpted by Derek Haworth in Hertfordshire, was only part of the pounds 1m launch. There were also robotic Jackson lookalikes touring record shops. And Michael and wife Lisa Marie Presley gave a rare television interview. It needed a newsworthy angle, and it got one. They plan to have a baby, a grandchild for Elvis ... sometime. Not the greatest revelation for most newly-married couples, but for Michael and Lisa Marie, may be.

Jackson also referred to the recent out-of-court settlement over the strenuously denied child abuse allegations, with a remark probably not approved by his solicitors. Saying he would not stop having children in his bed, he explained: "It is done with purity and love and complete innocence."

This is a superstar uncowed. How many singers recovering from the trauma of child abuse allegations would make an album cover dedication to "all my children of the world, the healthy, the sick and the dying . . . I love you dearly, and this album could not have been made without your love and support. I will always love you."

Jackson's record company is convinced the new double CD with the cumbersome title HIStory, Past, Present and Future Book 1 will equal the 42 million sales world-wide of his Thriller album. The novel mix of 15 greatest hits and 15 new tracks is an adventurous and musically interesting experiment.

However, the lyrics in some of the more personal tracks, blaming the media, are somewhat sledgehammered. "They say he is a homosexual," is one of the less danceable moments.

The bad publicity has persuaded Jackson he would rather live abroad. "I don't care to stay in America," he said in the television interview. "I would like to go abroad ... Maybe South Africa, maybe Switzerland."

But as Jackson re-establishes his fan base, he will be pleased that his 30ft steel image looks over London, and pleased too that his enterprising British advertising agency, DPA, dropped the idea of launching the new album with the slogan: "He's bad, he's back, and he's dangerous to know."

Metro section, page 14

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