On the Jackson family front, the headline-grabbing news last week was the leak to radio stations of a spicier version of ''Word to the Badd!!'' a cut from Jermaine Jackson's new album, You Said. With lyrics like ''Once you were made/ You changed your shade/Was your color wrong?'' the target brother Michael was obvious, and so was the publicity value to Jermaine's modest career.
But the bigger news was actually the delivery of the master tapes of Michael's long-in-the-works new album, Dangerous, to his label, Epic. The public will get a taste of the album this week when his 11-minute video, ''Black or White,'' debuts simultaneously on Fox, MTV, and Black Entertainment Television at 8:25 p.m. on Nov. 14. The album itself, which has been on Epic's release schedule since July, will moonwalk into record stores Nov. 26. Given the expectations for Dangerous, all parties involved should exhale a sigh of relief-or should they? Given the size of Jackson's estimated $65 million contract with Sony (Epic's parent company) and the low profile of his career since his last album (1987's Bad), there is more riding on the success of Dangerous than on any other album in pop history.
Jackson labored on his latest opus for more than a year, often in secrecy that would humble the Pentagon. To make sure no one heard his new songs, he rented out the two adjacent studios at Universal City's Larrabee Studios and kept them empty; he also filled his work space with video games and adorned the walls with posters of Peter Pan and other Disney characters. Searching for an updated R&B sound that will reconnect him with the black audience that may have drifted away from him in the years since 1982's Thriller, Jackson compiled nearly 70 tracks with the aid of chart-topping new-jack producers like Teddy Riley and L.A. Reid & Babyface.
Apparently even Jackson didn't know what he wanted, though: All the Reid & Babyface tracks plus a half-dozen tracks cut with writer-producer Bryan Loren, who created ''Do the Bartman'' were ultimately canned. Then there's Madonna: Whispery background vocals on the track ''In the Closet'' sound suspiciously like Ms. Ciccone but are credited only to ''Mystery Girl.'' Neither Madonna's spokeswoman nor Sony would confirm the singer's identity.
Even with the album finished, the financial expectations weighing on Dangerous must make both Jackson and Sony nervous. The album is the first of six under the contract he signed with Sony last spring, which reportedly guarantees him $18 million for Dangerous plus $5 million for each of the following records, as well as a signing bonus of $4 million and a percentage of sales. That fact, combined with the cost of producing the album (which one source estimates at $5 million), should make Sony desperate to get Dangerous out in time for the lucrative holiday season (and to capitalize on Jackson's Nov. 27 appearance on MTV's 10th anniversary special on ABC).
Rumors that Jackson is groping about for a revamped sound have
made the industry equally edgy. (Judging from recent photos, however,
the singer did not revamp his medallion-studded image.) Advance
orders for Dangerous, while healthy, are still running about 25 to 30
percent behind those of Guns N' Roses' Use Your Illusion albums. ''I
don't think the general public is sitting around waiting for a
Michael Jackson record,'' says one retail-chain executive. ''I think
he's peaked.'' Sony, naturally, disagrees. ''There won't be one upset
customer,'' says Pete Anderson, vice president of sales at Epic. ''This
is an event. You could bring this record out anytime.'' Just don't
tell that to Michael.
With reporting by Christopher Vaughn