The big news this week is of course the 25th anniversary edition of Michael Jackson's landmark album Thriller. While many of us today think of Jackson as the baby-tossing human mannequin, and all-around, one-man freak show he's admittedly become, it's still just a little too easy to forget the incredible achievement that Thriller actually was.
At the time Thriller was first released in 1982, pretty much everybody involved with it expected it to be huge. But no one could have predicted the monstrous phenomenon it eventually became. Thriller was one of those once-in-a-lifetime events that completely rewrote the rulebook for everything about the way music was recorded, produced, and marketed at the time.
Thriller systematically kicked down all of the remaining racially polarized barriers that existed in music even a few months before its release. Everything from the British New Wave syntho-pop of the time, to the post-disco R&B of artists like Prince and Rick James was affected by it. Radio playlists and even MTV — who up to that time wouldn't play black artists, claiming they didn't fit the video channel's "rock" format — were forced to adjust their playlists accordingly. Nothing was ever the same after that.
Blogcritic Donald Gibson has a particularly poignant article about just how profoundly this album affected him in his youth. There are doubtless millions of similar stories about Thriller out there as well.
I'm not sure how jazzed I can really get about all of the extras included on this new 25th Anniversary Edition — new versions of classics like "Billie Jean" featuring today's stars like will.i.am and Fergie just don't excite me that much. But there is no doubt that Thriller warrants the treatment. The album remains the biggest seller of all time even now.
Being a Neil Young fan, one album that does excite me this week though is Cinnamon Girl: Women Artists Cover Neil Young for Charity, which is pretty much exactly what the title describes. Tanya Donnelly's take on "Heart Of Gold" oughtta be worth the price tag all by itself.
Some of this week's other highlights include Free Somehow, the latest from jam band extraordinaire Widespread Panic. There is also a compilation "best of" package from Guru's Jazzmatazz series, where the hip-hop producer and sometime Gang Starr member gives classic jazz tracks by people like Ramsey Lewis and Donald Byrd a hip-hop makeover.
One of the greatest stoner-rock bands of all time — think Blue Cheer crossed with Motorhead on acid — is also back as Monster Magnet delivers its latest opus, 4-Way Diablo. The onetime Georgia Satellites frontman Dan Baird — who had a very fine, but sadly overlooked solo album in the nineties with Songs For The Hearing Impaired now has another new solo release called Out of Mothballs.
This is a certified jazz/funk/power trio bomb. With Vernon Reid on guitar, Jamaaladeen Tecuma on bass, and G. Calvin Weston on drums, there is not a flabby moment on this record. Many people know Reid from his fire-spitting days with Living Colour. If you weren't paying attention though, you might be lead to believe that Reid was only capable of those tangled rock solos. Not true. The man has soul. Tons of it. Mountains of it! Tecuma and Weston (great names in their own right) have joined forces with Reid to produce this spectacular funk assault.
Since Guided By Voices split on New Year's Eve, 2004 (and even long before that) some fans have pined for the old days – back when Robert Pollard and company crudely recorded in a basement on cassettes into a boombox, throwing caution to the wind and making lo-fi masterpieces that confounded standard song-writing practices. Pollard's become something of an off-kilter, oddball-pop genius over the years, but he hasn't forgotten those days, and with his latest album, as always just the first of several this year, he returns to those old techniques to see what turns up. 20 years of old tapes+new vocals and other goodies=a good time for willing ears.
Here are all of this week's new album releases courtesy of All Music Guide: