28 February, 2008@6:35 am
When listening to the 25th Anniversary edition of Thriller, you forget all of the controversies surrounding Michael Jackson. The fact that he dresses like a general and thinks that he is Peter Pan is irrelevant, as are the strange incidents involving children and whatever the truth behind them may be. Reason being is that Thriller is “the world’s biggest selling album of all time”, as it states proudly on the cover, and it’s earned that honor with good reason. It’s nine-track blueprint (named by ?uestlove as the primary influence for The Roots’ recent short album spans) left no margin for error, creating what many consider to be a flawless record, thanks to the work of MJ and producer Quincy Jones.
Every song on Thriller is memorable, and virtually each of them was a hit single. It’s influence is still being heard in today’s popular music, as two of radio’s biggest current hits – Kanye West’s “Good Life” and Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop The Music” both utilize samples from the Thriller LP (“P.Y.T” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”, respectively). But sampling Thriller – or MJ for that matter – isn’t anything new or revolutionary, as it’s also a piece of the puzzle in what many would call the greatest hip-hop album all time, Illmatic, as “Human Nature” is the backdrop for “It Ain’t Hard To Tell”.
So as this album is a musical standard, there’s no reason to wax on poetically about how great it’s contents are, as anyone who is at least 25 years old has owned this album in some form or fashion (bonus points if you had the 8-track tape). The new content on this 25th anniversary edition obviously includes digital remastering to the highest quality, so this album does sound better than ever before, especially if the last time you heard it was before CD’s – or digital music files for that matter – even existed.
While a special edition of the record was released in 2001, what makes this one a bit more exciting is the inclusion of new remixes – actually more like remakes – of some of the classic Thriller hits. Will.i.am is at the forefront of this, taking the helm of three of the album’s new renditions. The first, and best, of these is “The Girl Is Mine 2008”, a completely new take on MJ’s old duet with Paul McCartney. This time, will takes the place of The Beatle, as he and Mike trade verses about the same girl. The track is completely reworked, transforming it into a modern club-ready dancefloor jam, without sacrificing the integrity of the original song. Will’s new “P.Y.T. 2008” borrows nothing from the original but its name, exploring what new music from Mike might sound like if produced by today’s hit makers. “Beat It”, rather, is more of a plain old remix, this time with Fergie singing half of the song, which unfortunately comes off stale and contrived. Wouldn’t Rihanna have been more appropriate?
Meanwhile, Kanye West gets the honor of remixing the original album’s best song, “Billy Jean”. In true Kanye fashion, it begins with symphonic string section, then breaking into a hard-hitting boom-bap drum section. The only fault here is that Kanye completely threw out the original song’s trademark bassline, which is part of the reason it’s so great in the first place. Regardless, the new version holds up. Akon has a reworking of his own, as he gets his hands on “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”. His take starts off differently as well, as he very boldly turns the song into a slow piano ballad, before flipping the script into an up-tempo version similar to the original. The 2008 remake has newly recorded vocals shared between Akon and Mike, minus the original’s odd 8-bar “vegetable” verse, but complete with the essential “makossa” breakdown. There also the new inclusion of “For All Time”, an unreleased song from the original Thriller recording sessions. It’s clear why the song was originally left off, as its medley has a striking similarity to “Human Nature”, but it’s an interesting inclusion nonetheless.
In the way of bonus tracks, Target shoppers are treated to a god-awful 1992 house version of “Billy Jean”, that sounds a lot like other songs that were popular at the time, like Marky Mark’s “Good Vibrations” or Madonna’s “Vogue”. (This kind of hints that this album will be re-released in another ten years, with remixes by multi-platinum super-producers Dr. Dre Junior and Edan.) Meanwhile, the Japanese edition is equipped with the discoed out “Got The Hots”, which sounds much more like something from MJ’s previous LP, Off The Wall; the title track in fact. Finally, the second disc in set is a DVD which includes videos for “Beat It”, “Billy Jean”, and “Thriller”, as well as a live performance of “Billy Jean”.
Still, it would have been nice to see the whole album remixed, considering that virtually every song is a well known hit. It would have been cool to see other producer greats step in, from hip-hop heads like DJ Premier or Danja Handz to house heroes like Daft Punk or Bob Sinclair to pop staples like Justin Timberlake or Usher. While this new collection might not be flawless, it’s source material is, which justifies the classic rating – the rest of it is just gravy. So putting all of Michael’s weirdness aside, let’s not forget one thing, it’s the success of this record that essentially made him the eccentric he is today. – Pizzo
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