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Off The Wall

Michael Jackson

1979

Off The Wall was Michael Jackson's shit-hot solo debut album.  As evidenced by the sound of the album, it was released around the peak of disco's popularity, but to simply call Off The Wall a disco record simply does not due it justice.  It's much more than that.  First off, it really puts disco to shame.  This is, after all, Michael Jackson we're talking about here, so you don't just want to dance to the music, you want to bust a move, moonwalk, do the robot, etc.  To quote my boy Jackie Wilson, this is music that takes you higher.  There's a lot of love on this record.  If you have an ounce of rhythm in your body, it's simply impossible to sit still to most of these songs.  The beats and grooves are absolutely infectious.  The energy and joy Michael exudes in these songs is palpable.  It's a beautiful thing really.  You feel it in your bones.  These songs are just fun.  There's no way around it.  And most them have a lot of soul too.  That's the tri-fecta that only Michael Jackson could pull off: soulful, sweet, fun, music that makes you want to dance your ass off.

R.I.P. Michael Jackson.

9.0

Thriller

Michael Jackson

1982

Thriller has quite a reputation.  It's the single greatest selling album in the history of recorded music, haven won a record-breaking 8 Grammy's upon its release and continues to be highly regarded to this day, consistently ranking highly on basically all "best albums of all-time" lists.

So you could say that it's a pretty good album.

And that (obviously) would be putting it mildly.  This was Michael Jackson's breakthrough album, released a few years after his solo debut Off The Wall (which is also a great album in it's own right), Thriller catapulted Michael Jackson into the stratosphere of popular culture, music, and stardom.  It's an incredibly catchy dance-pop album, loaded with classic hits which are surrounded by equally infectious supporting tracks, amounting to an enthralling and exhilarating listening experience.

Everyone knows the classics like "Thriller", "Beat It", and "Billie Jean" (the latter being perhaps the greatest dance song of all-time), but what really makes Thriller such a great album are the consistently good supporting tracks on the album.  Take the invigorating opening track for example "Wanna Be Startin Something".  Perhaps the 2nd best song on the entire album, it's a tour-de-force dance-pop song which still sounds fresh, exhilarating, and exciting to this day.  The "mama-say-mama-sah-ma-ma-coo-sah" part is the climax of the song, and really highlights the celebratory vibe of the track.

The next track "Baby Me Mine" is an incredibly smooth, soulful, grooving track with a great R&B flavor.  Phenomenal beat.  "The Girl is Mine" follows, featuring trade-off vocals between Jackson and none other than the great Paul McCartney.  It's a corny track, but it has a sweet, endearing quality that makes it work.

The middle of the album is jam-packed with the 3 classics "Thriller", "Beat It", and "Billie Jean".  The fact that these 3 tracks are all placed sequentially in the middle of the album really adds to the power of the record as a whole.  It kind of feels like you're listening to a "greatest-hits" album as these tracks roll by, as you would be hard pressed to find 3 powerhouse tracks like those stacked side-by-side on any other dance-pop album, which really showcases the fact that Michael Jackson was operating at his artistic peak at the time.  Most artists would be lucky to come up with just 1 song as good as any of those for an album, let alone 3 back to back.  Quite impressive.

After the tri-fecta of singles, the listener is treated to the incredibly sweet and sensitive "Human Nature" which is a good reflection of the singer himself.  It's got a really beautiful melody that is complimented well by Jackson's soft, soulful singing.  The dance-funk them comes back in full force with "P.Y.T" which sports one of the best pure dance-beats on the entire album.

Thriller then closes out with the somewhat underwhelming "The Lady in my Life" ending the album on a soft, melancholy note.  Aside from that borderline lackluster song, and the corny yet endearing "The Girl is Mine" every other song on Thriller is fantastic.  This was definitely Michael Jackson's best album, and really the last truly great album of his career.  It's also the last album where Jackson sounded like he was having fun, the last album where the prevailing vibe was joy, and not claustrophobic angst.

Jackson still had plenty of memorable hits left in him after this album, but he would never be able to put together an album that was as consistently fresh and brilliant as Thriller.

9.2

Bad

A man in his late twenties stands and looks forward. His hair is curly and black. He is wearing a black jacket that has several buckles and pants. The background is white and beside him are the words "Michael Jackson" in black capital letter, and over them, "Bad" in red.

Michael Jackson

1987

The thing that's really lacking on Bad that both Thriller and Off The Wall had in spades is this: soul.  By comparison, Bad sounds so incredibly streamlined and somewhat overly processed.  It sounds very much of the era.  The beats are harder, but they have significantly less groove to them.  That's another thing that made Thriller and Off The Wall so great: the groove.  Not to say that Bad doesn't have some good grooves here and there, but the overall sound is just much more production-heavy.  It kind of sucks the soul right out of the album.  Additionally, Michael sounds generally less joyful on this album compared to Thriller, especially compared to Off The Wall.  By now, he was absolutely suffocating under the incredible weight of his fame, and you can feel the tension in most of these songs.  Most of them have an edgier, choppy vibe to them.  Also, unlike Thriller, almost half of this album could be described as filler (i.e. "Speed Demon", "Liberian Girl", etc).  A lot of these songs just bluntly sound like an artifact of pop music from 1986/1987...and that's not a good thing.

So overall, while Bad certainly has some classic songs on it, the overall sound and vibe here is sorely lacking in the soul and groove departments.  A bit too overly produced, and a bit too much filler to boot.

7.8

Dangerous

Michael Jackson

1991

Similar to Bad, Dangerous is not in the same league as Off The Wall or Thriller, mainly due to all the excess filler found here.  As with Bad, roughly half of the album is basically filler, and although Bad probably has slighty more "classic" songs on it than Dangerous, I would have to give Dangerous the slight nod over Bad for one main reason:  New Jack vs. 1987.  I came up listening to a lot of New Jack Swing, and have always been a casual fan of the early 90s genre in general, so the fact that most of this album is delivered in that spirit, makes it highly preferably to the somewhat sterile and at times mechanical sounding Bad.  On top of that, I happen to like "Jam" and "Remember The Time" more than practially anything off of Bad (with the exception of "Man in the Mirror" and maybe "The Way You Make Me Feel".)

Overall though, when you're talking about Michael Jackson, his best two albums are easily Off The Wall and Thriller, and those two albums tower above both Bad and Dangerous.  Bad and Dangerous each have their moments, but sitting through those albums as a whole is nowhere near as satisfying as playing Off The Wall or Thriller.  Two different eras, yes, but, doesn't change the fact that it's true.

At the end of the day, I enjoy Dangerous slightly more than Bad mainly due to the New Jack style.  But it's no Off The Wall or Thriller.  Not even close.

7.9

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