CD Review of Destiny (Expanded Edition) by The Jacksons
Recommended if you like
Michael Jackson, Jermaine Jackson, Stevie Wonder
Label
Epic/Legacy
The Jacksons:
Destiny (Expanded Edition)

Reviewed by Michael Fortes

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I
t’s been seven years since Michael Jackson last tried to prove to the world that he’s still got his groove in the studio. Invincible wasn’t exactly prime Michael, and it’s hard to imagine that whatever he puts out next will be much of an improvement. The sad thing about it all is, in light of Epic/Legacy’s reissue of Destiny, it appears that all the elements he would need to make a good record, one fitting for his age, were actually already in place on an album he made with his brothers in 1978, back when he was just barely 20.

Destiny doesn’t roll off people’s tongues as readily or as often as Off the Wall or Thriller, though it’s certainly in the same class. Remarkably, the two albums the Jackson Five (re-christened the Jacksons after signing to Epic, since Motown head Berry Gordy retained the rights to the original name) recorded with Philly soul hit makers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff failed to live up to the potential that was there on paper. These were the guys responsible for the O’Jays’ “Back Stabbers,” Lou Rawls’ “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” and a whole slew of others. Gamble and Huff knew how to write and produce songs that made a lasting impression, and yet, though their work with the Jacksons was pretty decent, it wasn’t about to make anyone forget “Dancin’ Machine.”

Epic let the brothers produce themselves, and write all their material themselves, for their third album with the label. In the process, they came up with what ultimately became the successful template for not only the next Jacksons album, but Michael’s Off the Wall in ’79.

The dance tracks here crackle with a crisp new sound for the brothers, along with confident singing and solid pop songwriting. “Things I Do For You” probably could have been a hit single had it been released, what with its pre-chorus’ nod to “Play That Funky Music,” and “Blame It on the Boogie” provided a cute little throwback to the younger days of the Jackson Five. But it was “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” that truly announced the arrival of a new Michael. Tito’s rhythm guitar riff, Greg Phillinganes’ keyboards, and the horn and string arrangements created a symphonic dance groove that was irresistible; meanwhile, Michael was cooing, whispering, growling, whooping and slipping between his natural tenor and his falsetto to great effect. He wasn’t as fully confident as he would be just a year later, but he was so close that the song went Top 10. It was packed with so many successful ideas that he and Quincy Jones would recycle many of them on Off the Wall: that offhand “shake it all down” ad lib became “take it over” in “Working Day and Night”; the “dance, let’s shout” refrain was reprised at the close of “Burn this Disco Out” -- and those are just some of the vocal ideas, never mind the musical ones.

The slower songs, too, are standouts – “Destiny” and “Bless His Soul,” in particular, take a philosophical outlook on life that brims with the kind of naïve positivity that has been lacking from Michael’s post-Thriller work. With the drama he has put himself through in the many years since, it seems unlikely he’ll be drawing from the same well of inspiration that he and his brothers tapped 30 years ago, never mind the fact that the kind of organic sound heard here is all but a distant memory for any R&B star who doesn’t identify with the neo-soul movement of the mid to late ‘90s. If only he knew now what he knew then…

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