Life at 33 1/3: Thriller gets the axe

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Michael Jackson, Thriller (Epic)

From the vaults of Carl Meyer: a vintage record review written and published in December 1982.

Everything was neatly planned and executed for “Thriller” to become a super-album.  It sported a gorgeous gatefold sleeve, an inner bag with the seemingly endless lyrics printed on it and a musician cred list as long as the repository of an encyclopaedia, all hand-picked, the cream of the crop, a who’s who of funk, pop and rock with their horns, guitars, drums, keyboards and voices.  And in the control room, the headmaster himself, Quincy Jones, yet again.

Their mission is obvious: not just matching but actually surpassing the extraordinary “Off The Wall”.  But alas “Thriller” is not what it wants to be.  There’s none of the fiery commitment that made “Off The Wall” such an astonishing achievement.  The quirky playfulness, the wonderful musical variations, the erotic undertows, the rhythmic tensions – all the crucial elements that challenged Michael’s vocal range and made him sound like nothing on this Earth.

Compared to “Off The Wall”, “Thriller” sounds calculated, self obsessed, smooth and – dare I say it? – boring.  “Thriller” is product.  Less chances, more professionalism.  Of course the sound of the album is impressive.  Some of the greatest musicians in the business are on it.  You get all the fat bass lines you can dream of (check out “Billie Jean”), the drumming is juicy, percussive details are spread all over the thing and is a delight when listened to on headphones.  It’s well-oiled machinery on parade, wearing Quincy Jones’ glazed varnish, posing in front of its own mirror and loving every minute of it.

Jackson is a great singer and he still sounds god-like, but these new songs don’t force him to struggle much, he comes across more like a show-off, lots of theatrics, less passion.  Sort of: “Listen to me, ain’t I good?”  This guy believes in his own press release.

The duet with Paul McCartney (“This Girl Is Mine”), a syrupy and nauseating ballad, is actually one of the better performances on the album, thanks to Paul who actually sounds like a grown man, whereas Michael just sounds silly.

“Thriller” doesn’t even come close to giving “Off The Wall” a run for its money … and that should worry both Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones.  To be honest I can’t even figure another hit from this album, except maybe for “Billie Jean”.

Carl Meyer’s comment in December 2014:

“Well this was written in early December 1982, when ‘Thriller’ was brand new, and if anything it proves that I am not a prophet.  But I still agree with myself when it comes to the actual music. ‘Thriller’» is insanely overrated.

Released: November 30, 1982,

Produced by: Quincy Jones

Contents: “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”/”Baby Be Mine”/ “The Girl Is Mine”/ “Thriller” /”Beat It” /”Billie Jean”/”Human Nature” /”P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)”/”The Lady in My Life”