Reviewing Michael Jackson’s Thriller is sort of an act of futility. Around 1982 when this album first dropped – this recent incarnation commemorating the particularly arbitrary decade times 2.5 re-release – this disc and Michael himself were certified cash. Anything the man released sold through the roof. Anything he said was truth. He was like the pope. but could moonwalk. Simultaneously innovative and catchy, Thriller instantly proved itself an album for the ages.
And yet with time and excessive spins, Thriller, re-packaged to the nines with a hardcover binding and numerous pages of “Thriller” screenshots and lyrics, is remarkably underwhelming. It may be a function of the hype surrounding the album, the elaborate release or Michael’s own mythic status – or it could just be the embarrassingly bad bonus material – but this album is not, like the artist himself, the product of yore.
Judging Thriller on its own merit, it’s a great album. Not perfect, but certainly better than most of the similar releases that preceded it. The heart of the album (the sequential “Thriller,” “Beat It” and “Billy Jean”) is untouchable. You’d be hard pressed to find any triumvirate of songs that can stack up to the monolithic status of these.
But even with arguably the best consecutive songs in pop history, this album is still somewhat of a letdown. Amplifying the greatness of these tracks is their collective prefix “The Girl Is Mine” – featuring a horrific guest spot from a then semi-youthful but still painfully middle-aged Paul McCartney. If ever there was a duo that shouldn’t have worked together it was these two, especially given the public backstabbing Michael laid on The Beatles and McCartney himself.
Aside from this graphic misstep, the rest of the disc is rather unobjectionable. “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” is another undeniable hit, but little else on the record is a legendary standout. As such, to say it’s any better than “very good” without the context of the album’s original release – it was released before most of us were born – would be assuming too much. This album revolutionized the way the pop ballad was written and recorded, but its own artistic merit may be slightly exaggerated.
Great album aside, it’s a wonder why Thriller was given such an extravagant reissue. It boasts a bevy of bonus material that ranges from functionally enjoyable (the included DVD) to downright atrocious (remixes by will.i.am). The DVD contains the videos for the aforementioned, heart-pounding trio, but given the age and repetitive play of the videos and access to things like YouTube, the DVD is convenient but little else. How many times in a day (week) can you honestly watch the “Thriller” video? It might seem like a good idea – a necessity rather than extracurricular enjoyment – but in the end, it’s simply a marketing ploy used to get people to buy an album they probably already own.
Similarly, the bonus tracks included on the disc are horrible. Whoever thought will.i.am and Fergie would be able to improve what is commonly considered the best pop album of all time was terribly mistaken and responsible for some of the most objectionable remixes in quite some time. Though Kanye West’s remix of “Billie Jean” – a track that fortunately doesn’t have any added vocals but rather a reorganization of the musical back drop – is remarkably succinct and intelligent, it begs only one question: Why?
And that’s the real issue with this re-release: There seems to be absolutely no reason for this album to have been reissued besides being approximately 25 years old. The most depressing answer to this question is that Michael may have turned his legacy into a cash cow. But what else is there to do with this disc? It’s run its course and pop artists have been name-dropping it in just about every interview they’ve given in the last decade. It has served its purpose: Where once there was a Thriller, there stands only a collection of tracks you’re particularly familiar with.
Michael Jackson – Thriller 25th Anniversary Edition
Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars