Drive through the center of Washington, D.C., Baltimore, or other major cities and you'll spot something that you likely haven't seen in a long time — promotional posters for a Michael Jackson release.
Long before Jackson was accused of pedophilia, skin bleaching, multiple plastic surgeries, and countless other crimes and eccentricities he was heralded as a child prodigy turned musical genius. Although his break through album, 1979's Off the Wall, was critically acclaimed, it was seen as a one-time wonder. Surely, no one guessed that Jackson and producer Quincy Jones would walk away with eight Grammys and more than 100 million sales for their efforts.
It's easy to become jaded about Thriller because so many of the songs and stylings have worked their way into the public consciousness. Jackson dancing to videos from the album, wearing a red jacket, sparkly glove and white socks, have been replayed and parodied ad nauseum. It's not until you put on Thriller 25 that you reconnect the depth of the music.
The opening chords of "Wanna Be Startin' Something," with the afro-funk beat and Jackson's pure, clear vocals still send a bit of a chill through the listener as do the classics "Billie Jean," and of course "Thriller," which spawned the much-heralded video. What's interesting is that some lesser known songs from the album, such as "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) and "The Lady In My Life," come across as almost undiscovered jewels thanks again to Jackson's vocals and the incredible guitar chords.
When the album was first released, Jackson's duet with Paul McCartney on "The Girl is Mine," was derided as cornball. In truth, it has always seemed somewhat odd, especially on an album with the sexual overtones of songs such as "Billie Jean." Although the duet is still pretty syrupy, it has aged enough so it comes across as a fairly decent pop song which may not have been as derided if it hadn't shared the spotlight with so many masterpieces from the same album.
Much has been written about the work Jackson did on this Thriller 25 with will.i.am, Kanye West, Fergie and Akon. Bringing those contemporary hitmakers into the process will no doubt boost appeal to listeners who are younger than the original album.
For those who are intrigued by these artists, it also provides a glimpse of insight into their creative processes. will.i.am kept the original essence of "P.Y.T." in the updated version, adding vocals and rhythms that make it perfect for the clubs. Yet “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” with Akon is somewhat disconcerting. Although Jackson’s original vocals and beat are prominent, it’s clear Akon is straining to put his stamp on the song, shifting parts into something of a ballad/funk mix. Fergie's vocals on "Beat It" are heartfelt but feel just a bit out of sync with the song; melding Jackson's vocals with hers makes for an interesting listen.
Those, though, are truly minor points. Thriller 25 reminds us that despite the scandals, Jackson created a masterpiece and forged a new musical frontier that paved the way for Usher, Justin Timberlake, Chris Brown, and many others.
Thriller 25 includes a DVD with “Thriller” short films, Jackson's Emmy-nominated performance of "Billie Jean" during the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever TV special and more.Powered by Sidelines