CD Review of Triumph (Expanded Edition) by The Jacksons
Recommended if you like
Michael Jackson, Giorgio Moroder, Studio 54-type disco en masse
Label
Epic/Legacy
The Jacksons:
Triumph (Expanded Edition)

Reviewed by Jason Thompson

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A
h, the Jacksons! As The Jackson 5, they cranked out tons of hits for Motown, and after a while, they (especially Michael) wanted more control over their product, but -- as the history books made clear with labelmate Stevie Wonder -- that shit just didn’t fly. However, unlike Stevie Wonder, the Jackson brothers had to head off to other labels’ pastures to get exactly what they wanted. Although Jermaine Jackson didn’t follow his brothers’ lead (he was engaged to Motown head honcho Berry Gordy’s daughter and didn’t want to rock the boat, as it were), the rest of the gang packed up and headed over to Columbia’s newest imprint Epic (a couple of Gamble/Huff-produced albums were released on the Philadelphia International subsidiary prior) and laid down a couple doozies known as Destiny and Triumph.

Triumph was the bridge between Michael Jackson’s disco baby Off the Wall and his deep-end plunge into the stratosphere, Thriller. As good as Off the Wall is at times, Triumph sounds like the more enjoyable album now, as it sheds a lot of Michael’s solo forays into dross (a cover of Paul McCartney’s “Girlfriend” and the crying-fest “She’s out of My Life”). As far as Thriller goes, yes, Triumph even kills its lard (“The Girl Is Mine” and “The Lady in My Life”). It’s undeniably the Jacksons’ masterpiece while also acting as a nice farewell to disco. Indeed, its mirror ball musings hold up a ton better than many of the group’s contemporaries’ releases of the same year.

Featuring such dynamic singles as the epic “Can You Feel It,” the smash “This Place Hotel,” and the disco stomper “Walk Right Now,” Triumph doles out the excitement with punch after punch. With Michael on lead vocals for most of the album (Jackie Jackson sings lead on closer “Wondering Who,” and brother Randy takes co-lead on “Can You Feel It”), it’s almost like another solo album for the then up-and-comer. The brothers produced the album themselves, and the whole affair sounds like a powerhouse. For anyone who ever thought Quincy Jones was the great Svengali behind Michael’s solo work, all you need to do is listen to this album and know that that isn’t the case at all.

In addition to the hits, most of the album tracks here cook with an intensity that perhaps even Michael might have missed on Thriller. “Lovely One” is kinetic, frenetic pop disco glory with its horn and drum-integrated rhythm, while “Your Ways” is spacey, ebullient dancefloor wonderland stuff. Only “Everybody” seems to have not aged all that well -- as far as the disco grooves go, it sounds a bit generic -- but the Jacksons can be forgiven for it, as that sort of thing is bound to happen when working within that genre. As far as the two slower tracks go, “Give It Up” fares better than the ballad “Time Waits for No One,” yet neither song is mediocre.

For this 30th anniversary “expanded” edition, three bonus cuts have been tacked on to the end of the original album. These include the single version of “This Place Hotel,” and a vocal and instrumental remix of “Walk Right Now” by John Luongo. The idea here was to collect some rare 12” remixes, but honestly none of the stuff included here is necessary at all unless you’re just one of those listeners that has to have everything. As a standalone album, Triumph is just that. It was the very last time you’d see Michael before all the weirdness started taking over post-Thriller, as well as the last time the brothers would get along. Victory was a shambles of an album, with most of the guys not even being in the studio at the same time, so if you want to hear where everything came together almost perfectly, this is the album for you. It’s certainly one of the best from the ‘80s, and a huge piece of work from the Jackson family.

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