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The Sonic Oxymoron of Clean Felony


Launched in 1988 as Unhealthy‘s seventh single, “Clean Felony” by Michael Jackson was the album’s sixth prime 10 observe. It reached quantity seven on the Billboard Scorching 100 and was acknowledged as 2x platinum by the Recording Business Affiliation of America. Whereas the only by no means topped the Billboard Scorching 100 chart, it has retrospectively been extolled as probably the greatest songs from Unhealthy and Jackson’s music profession. “Clean Felony” describes an assault on a lady named Annie by, nicely, a “easy legal,” nevertheless it moonwalks a lot farther past a slick felon. The only is a sonic oxymoron of life and demise that leaves listeners teetering on the bridge between the prospect of residing and the specter of dying.

“Clean Felony” begins with a shrill punch of instrumentation and jagged breaths as a sinister melody sparkles within the background, creating an ominous temper and anticipating the onset of violence. Then, Jackson’s grating “Ow!” pierces the environment and signifies that the sleek legal has begun his crime towards Annie. The lyrics paint a grisly scene of Annie being attacked in her condominium; Jackson pronounces, “There is a sound on the window / Then he struck you, a crescendo Annie / He got here into your condominium / Left bloodstains on the carpet,” describing a scene harking back to a blunt power homicide. The brutality is amplified by “And you then bumped into the bed room / You had been struck down / It was your doom, Annie.” It appears as if Annie has met her demise through a merciless beating, with the A minor mode and foreboding melodic development reinforcing this darkish prospect. Listeners are consequently pushed in direction of the thought of demise.

However is Annie actually lifeless? In any case, Jackson by no means explicitly states that she is lifeless. The chorus “Annie, are you okay” is repeated all through the track, suggesting that the narrator doesn’t know if Annie is lifeless or alive; he’s uncertain of her situation and thus must persistently ask for affirmation. Annie’s unknown destiny builds that tense bridge between residing and dying that listeners are compelled to teeter on. However regardless of the grim descriptions of her assault, the tempo is upbeat and the beat is quick and regular, resembling a heartbeat. The truth is, proper in the course of the track is a verse that echoes a hope for all times; Jackson declares, “Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation / Sounding heartbeats, intimidation.” This center verse, which calls forth “resuscitation” and “heartbeats,” runs parallel with the truth that the guts is situated almost within the heart of the chest. This emphasis of the center and its connection to the guts, an important organ, implies that “Clean Felony” facilities on and revolves round the method of resuscitation. Coupled with the heartbeat rhythm, these parallels counsel that the narrator is trying to stimulate Annie’s coronary heart and revive her unconscious physique, giving listeners hope that Annie shall be okay. Jackson thus pulls listeners in direction of the prospect of life.

Not solely does “Clean Felony” evoke concepts of resuscitation, it mirrors the method of CPR. Within the first verses, Jackson makes use of previous tense and describes Annie within the third individual, enunciating, “So she bumped into the bed room / She was struck down, it was her doom.” His function as an omniscient however uninvolved narrator doesn’t final for lengthy, nonetheless, as within the following chorus, he instantly begins to handle Annie instantly; he asks her, “Annie, are you okay? / So, Annie, are you okay? Are you okay, Annie?” All through the remainder of the track, moderately than describing Annie’s assault by means of a distant, third individual lens, Jackson turns into actively a part of the scenario, with traces like “Then you bumped into the bed room / You had been struck down / It was your doom.” The preliminary use of third individual signifies that the narrator has simply discovered in regards to the assault however continues to be faraway from the scenario; he’s making his approach over to Annie’s unconscious physique. Then, the beginning of his direct interplay with Annie implies that he’s now actively working together with her; he’s performing CPR.

Because the track progresses, Jackson’s efforts to resuscitate Annie proceed. His vocals sound out of breath and rushed, reflecting the large bodily effort and haste required in CPR. The fast heartbeat rhythm, which constantly permeates the music, reinforces this exertion and hurriedness. And the quick tempo of 117 BPM mimics the speed of chest compressions required in CPR: 100 to 120 compressions a minute. The heaving and pushing throughout chest compressions are additionally mirrored within the rising and falling chord progressions. The intro and verses characteristic a chord development that steadily goes i – ii – III – ii, and the pre-chorus/chorus of “Annie, are you okay” strikes firmly between scale diploma VI and scale diploma VII. These plodding progressions additionally point out the rise and fall of Annie’s chest from the chest compressions and maybe her respiration, indicating that she is nearer to regaining consciousness. These components counsel that the narrator is embroiled in his resuscitation efforts, carefully juxtaposing the prospect of residing with the looming menace of demise. Listeners are holding onto the hope that Annie shall be revived however can’t escape the fact that the CPR might be unsuccessful, apprehensively staggering on the bridge between life and demise.

However as “Clean Felony” rushes in direction of the tip, plainly listeners’ concern for Annie shall be realized. The chord development of the refrain alternates between i – VII – VI – VII and that i – VII – VI – V (main), dwelling on the dominant chords of VII and V and thus heightening the anguish. Within the refrain’ closing two repeats, Jackson repeatedly bemoans “I do not know” and “dag gone it” on the ends of his traces, and these trailing phrases invoke the narrator’s frustration with the resuscitation efforts and counsel that the CPR is not working. Moreover, Jackson cries “assist me,” reiterating how he’s struggling to revive Annie. At this level, Annie’s demise appears inevitable, and listeners are once more lured in direction of the distress of demise.

Jackson concludes “Clean Felony” with “It was your doom Annie,” suggesting with finality that Annie has met her demise and dealing the deadly blow to listeners’ hope for her life. Annie’s life is outwardly over, ending with the shut of the lyrics, and listeners should now mournfully settle for that the narrator’s resuscitation efforts had been unsuccessful. Nonetheless, solely the lyrics finish there. Regardless of Jackson’s pronouncement of Annie’s doom, the instrumentation retains going for about 30 seconds after the final line. The heartbeat rhythm rushes previous the ultimate “It was your doom Annie” and continues to evoke the feverishness of lifesaving CPR. This instrumental persistence means that regardless of the lyrical hopelessness of the scenario, the narrator hasn’t given up and is vigorously persisting in his resuscitation efforts, once more calling into query Annie’s destiny. Consequently, Jackson items listeners with a renewed hope for Annie’s life, however they nonetheless haven’t got a transparent reply. “Clean Felony” by no means explicitly reveals the end result of the resuscitation efforts, leaving listeners teetering on a seesaw between the potential for life and the specter of demise.

Whereas “Clean Felony”‘s bloody lyrics lure listeners in direction of the considered demise, the rhythmic heartbeat pulls them again to the prospect of life, making a sonic oxymoron of life and demise. The CPR-invoking melody, vocals, and instrumentation evoke hope for Annie’s revival however concurrently current the chance of failure, inflicting nice apprehension. Throughout CPR, the sufferer’s destiny is unsure; they might both develop into responsive or by no means regain consciousness, rendering them briefly caught between residing and dying. Thus, CPR represents a bridge between life and demise. In “Clean Felony,” as listeners are pulled backwards and forwards between the hope for all times and torment of demise, the CPR-reminiscent components finally depart them balancing precariously in the course of the bridge, entangling them in a tense state of unknown, irresolution, and ambivalence.


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