(25th Anniversary Edition)
- Buy the CD
Reviewed by Will Harris
I’d been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the postman for a few days, since I knew he was destined to deliver a copy of Sony / Legacy’s 25th anniversary re-release of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. What I could not have foreseen, however, was that the CD/DVD set would make its grand appearance only minutes after the conclusion of an editorial discussion about how one should best handle the rating of an album whose music clearly warrants five stars, but the reissue itself is woefully mishandled.
Given that the above paragraph was written while this writer’s 37-year-old arse was unabashedly wiggling in his chair to the strains of “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” it’s fair to say that the nine tracks which make up the original Thriller album are more than deserving of five stars, especially since seven of those tracks were Top 10 hits and remain permanently embedded in the consciousness of everyone who ever turned on a radio during the 1980s. Lest we give the impression that the album is only 77.7% awesome, the handclaps, synth riffs, and kick-ass brass on “Baby Be Mine” could’ve easily earned MJ an eighth Top 10 hit if only someone had bothered to release it as a single. As to “The Lady in My Life,” it’s definitely the least of the nine, playing more like a Burt Bacharach / Carole Bayer-Sager tune than a Rod Temperton jam, but by the time it closes out the album, most listeners can do with the chance to wind down, anyway.
So what, then, has gone so wrong with this particular reissue to warrant the removal of a full two stars from that more-than-just five-star rating?
When you get right down to it, Michael Jackson has got to be one of the most confused individuals in the history of the music industry; when given an opportunity to revitalize his career, he never fails to screw up…and we’re not even talking about his personal life. In 2004, he released a 4-CD set entitled The Ultimate Collection, but instead of putting together a definitive collection of all of his hit singles to remind the world of what a great artist he can be, MJ dropped the ball by putting together a ragtag set which blended a seemingly random selection of singles and album tracks with rarities, demos, and previously unreleased material from the vaults. Then, in 2005, it was announced that he was busy producing an all-star charity single called "I Have This Dream" to help raise relief funds for victims of Hurricane Katrina, but as of this writing, it still remains unreleased. Now, in 2008, Jackson has the opportunity to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the world’s biggest-selling album of all time (a fact which has now been unabashedly incorporated into its cover art), and everyone’s wondering what he can possibly do to blow this break, too.
The answer: instead of focusing on the brilliance of his own work, he’s corralled a bunch of today’s biggest names to muck with something that was just fine the way it was. What’s arguably even worse is that instead of being placed on their own disc, they’ve simply been tacked onto the end of the original album.
There are two Black Eyed Peas to be found: Will.i.am comes in to rap his way through “The Girl Is Mine,” removing every last trace of Paul McCartney’s presence in the process, and a few tracks later, Fergie turns up to unnecessarily make “Beat It” into a duet. Will.i.am also offers a remix of “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing),” except that the version of the song he’s working with isn’t the one that appears on Thriller. Since it isn’t actually explained anywhere in the liner notes, here’s the backstory: producer Quincy Jones didn’t like the song Jackson submitted with that title, so he and James Ingram whipped up another song with the same title and used theirs instead. It’s Jackson’s original “P.Y.T.” that Will.i.am has been given to work with, but that actually works in its favor, since it doesn’t suffer from the usual remix stigma of a familiar entity being tampered with. Kanye West, however, offers up a surprisingly average remix of “Billie Jean” which offers nothing to specifically indicate West’s involvement. (C’mon, that could be anyone going, “Uh-huh, yeah, number one!”) In the end, the only collaborator who comes out fully unscathed is Akon, who turns in a truly soulful rendition…well, more of an adaptation, really…of “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” but the track nonetheless manages to provide the biggest disappointment of the entire reissue when Jackson turns up at the 1:42 mark to contribute a few newly-recorded lines and sounds, quite frankly, awful.
It’s clear that Michael Jackson has brought in these younger and – let’s face it – hipper artists in order to make the statement, “Hey, world, I’m still relevant,” but, as ever, he just doesn’t get it. Nowhere is this more evident than on the DVD that’s included in this package, which provides the album’s three iconic videos (“Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” and “Thriller”), along with the performance of “Billie Jean” from the “Motown 25” television special that serves as the 1980’s version of the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” He didn’t need to bring in a bunch of young upstarts; all he had to do was take this DVD and the original nine-song CD version of Thriller, hold them aloft, and say, “This is why you should respect me!” Even 25 years on, the record still speaks for itself as one of the greatest albums of all time; it didn’t need to be updated for a new generation.
But it was. And that’s why it only gets three stars.