With the press happily calling him a paedo and then promptly weeping buckets over his corpse to squeeze another few pints of media-milk out of the cash cow, it’s almost easy to forget how great Michael Jackson’s records were (well most of them). While I’m not really a huge Michael Jackson fan per se, I feel duty-bound to seize the occasion and get my milking gloves on with the rest of the tabloids and music press. Let the review commence. ‘Thriller’ is the best selling album of all time. That, I am totally disregarding, since commercial success is not an indicator of quality. Having said that, ‘Thriller’ is nothing short of great in an awful lot of places. It show-cases Jackson brilliantly as a performer as well as the truly under-rated songwriter he is. Granted he only wrote four of the nine cuts on the record (one being the irritatingly sugary ‘The Girl Is Mine’ and the duffest track here), but the other three are undeniable classics. The paranoid funk-rock of ‘Beat It’, the absurdly catchy ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin” and the surprisingly anxious, uncomfortable and undeniably brilliant ‘Billie Jean’, the latter inspired by a real-life young woman who wrote to Jackson insisting that he was the father of her child. The absurdly fun and slightly camp title track is musical absinthe, forcing everyone exposed to it to lose their inhibitions completely and dance like a zombie. Can it all be this good? Does it deserve its 65 Million sales? No is the short answer. The aforementioned, borderline nauseating Paul McCartney duet ‘The Girl Is Mine’ may have put inter-racial love on radio, breaking political boundaries, but it’s so twinkly and syrupy that it’s near-impossible to appreciate it as anything more than a forgettable 80’s relic. ‘Human Nature’ also sounds painfully dated and sounds at home in an overly nostalgic high school re-union full of former-bed-wetting-fourteen-year-olds. The important thing to consider here is, do these throw-aways drag the album down? Well yes. These two out of the nine songs have virtually no cross-over appeal and are more dated than Rain Man’s Filofax. Is ‘Thriller’ still a great album? Sure it is! While these songs don’t stand the test of time as well as other records, it sure as hell is one great pop record. Inconsistent maybe, but there are moments on here that are great enough for me not to care so much. It’s over-rated as hell but for the time being I’m not complaining.
I saw a man the other day crying in his car listening to ‘Earth Song’ really loud. For a start, ‘Earth Song’ can go straight to hell along with ‘Another Day In Paradise’ and any other preachy supposedly meaningful pop songs about poverty, written and performed by millionaires. If that same crying man had been listening to ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin”, I wouldn’t have cried with him, but I would have definitely handed him a tissue. While it’s by no means a personal favourite of mine, there’s no way I can give ‘Thriller’ anything less than a 8. It’s not perfect, but sometimes it comes ridiculously close; ‘Billie Jean’, ‘Beat It’, ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin” and ‘Thriller’ are four of the greatest pop songs ever written, no questions asked. What with the amount of pain Jackson went through, from his abusive childhood to the pressures of fame, it’s almost no surprise that he became the bizarre oddity and international joke we have come to know; and it’s this, more than anything else, that has made ‘Thriller’ age like it has. One half wishes that he had died in 1984.
Listen to this: driving at night with friends.
Key Track: Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’