Michael Jackson – SCREAM

Michael Jackson SCREAM

Title: SCREAM

Artist: Michael Jackson

Label: Epic/Legacy Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: September 29, 2017

 

 

Michael Jackson fans rejoice— SCREAM, a collection of the pop icon’s 13 most electrifying tracks, is being released by Epic/Legacy Records in collaboration with The Estate of Michael Jackson. The album includes classic hits like “Thriller” and “Dirty Diana” as well as the bonus track, “Blood on the Dance Floor X Dangerous.” Created by acclaimed remixer The White Panda, the bonus track is a high-energy mashup of five of The King of Pop’s songs: “Blood on the Dance Floor,” “Dangerous,” “This Place Hotel,” “Leave Me Alone,” and “Is It Scary.”

In addition to CD format, SCREAM will be available as a glow-in-the-dark two-disc vinyl edition with collectible poster in honor of MJ’s affection for the Halloween season. If just listening to this album isn’t enough, there are also Official Michael Jackson SCREAM Album Celebrations being held this fall in six major cities around the world (Paris, London, Sydney, Berlin, Los Angeles, and Tokyo). The celebrations will include screenings of MJ’s seven short films, including the rarely-seen Michael Jackson’s Ghosts, and an after party. For those that can’t make it to one of the album celebrations, SCREAM offers a collection of Michael’s hits that are sure to get you ready for the Halloween season.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

Michael Jackson – Off the Wall/Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall

Michael jackson_off the wall

Title: Off the Wall / Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall

Artist: Michael Jackson

Director: Spike Lee

Label: Sony Legacy / 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks

Formats: CD /DVD, CD/Blu-ray

Release date: February 26, 2016

 

Though any Michael Jackson fan will have at least one copy of his seminal 1979 album, Off the Wall, this reissue from the Michael Jackson Estate and Sony Legacy is bundled with the new Spike Lee documentary Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall. If you missed the television debut on Showtime, now is your chance to obtain the DVD or Blu-ray edition.

Lee’s documentary was assembling using archival footage, much of it from Jackson’s personal archive, which follows MJ’s start at Motown, his signing with CBS Records, and perhaps most importantly, his collaboration with Quincy Jones which eventually propelled him to superstardom. There are also many interviews with contemporary musicians who speak about Jackson’s profound influence on their careers, such as The Weeknd, Pharrell Williams, John Legend, and Questlove, plus various Jackson family members (though LaToya is conspicuously absent). Many of the musicians who performed with Jackson are also featured, including Siedah Garret, Greg Phillinganes and the late Louis Johnson, plus African American record company executives Paris Eley, Maurice Warfield, Suzanne de Passe, Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, Barry Gordy, Larkin Arnold, and of course Quincy Jones.

Lee offers an in-depth look at each of the tracks on Off the Wall, and one can follow along on the CD and through the newly penned essay by Steven Ivory that speaks to the profound impact of the album on Black America. Other than the liner notes, however, the CD is a straight reissue with no added features.

off-the-wall-2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On a final note, the set is rather clumsily packaged with a piece of chalk that one can use to write on the “specially treated brick wall” on the inside of the gatefold. If you’re not interested in maintaining the integrity of the originally packaging, you might wish to discard the back insert with the chalk so the CD fits easily on the shelf.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Destiny and Triumph

Title: Destiny (expanded edition)
Artist: The Jacksons
Label: Sony Legacy
Catalog No.: 886973086926
Release date: January 27, 2009

Title: Triumph (expanded edition)
Artist: The Jacksons
Label: Sony Legacy
Catalog No.: 886973355824
Release date: January 27, 2009

The Jackson 5 were Motown’s last hurrah, a boy band to rival the Monkees but with the wholesome family ties of the Partridge Family.  They also grew up on record, and their popularity in the mid-to-late-seventies mirrored that of Motown, their flagging label.  A few scattered hits and lack of creative direction led the group’s manager and father Joe to split for CBS in 1976, fetching the group a record contract and short-lived variety program on the television network.  The band’s first two albums for CBS, Destiny (1978) and Triumph (1980, as “The Jacksons”), re-established the group’s chart success and spawned two incredibly successful world tours.  Epic/Legacy have remastered and rereleased both albums, hoping to capitalize on the incredible success of their reissues of Michael’s solo albums, Off the Wall and Thriller.

The Jacksons’ narrative is of course all their own, but there are many familiar elements.  For Destiny, the brothers expressed their strong desire to write and produce their own material for the first time.  While the results can’t compare with their pop heyday and the songwriting consortium of Motown, Destiny is a slick, densely produced but still light collection of timely pop songs. The album draws from Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s lush, string-laden Philly Soul aesthetic as well as Earth, Wind & Fire’s take on funk music, with the inclusion of a few schmaltzy ballads (“You Push Me Away,” “Bless His Soul”).

The centerpiece of Destiny is its second and most successful single, “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground).”  An eight minute club cut (whittled to four minutes for radio) penned by Michael and Randy, “Shake” proved that the group could, on its own, tap into the still-ascendant disco marketthe track reached number seven on the American pop chart.  “Blame it on the Boogie” is equally lithe and arguably just as catchy, but stalled in the mid-fifties on Billboard.  The title cut and third single, however, is Destiny‘s most ambitious moment, opening with a lone acoustic guitar before segueing into one of Michael’s more world-weary lyrics, capped by an ever-so-brief refrain that could have been pulled from a Doobie Brothers or Christopher Cross track.  Destiny is a disco record through and through, and a reasonably successful one, but tracks like this make it clear that the group had designs well outside of the dance floor.

Between Destiny and Triumph, the Jacksons, especially Michael, lived up to the grandiose titles of their records.  The Destiny tour was a worldwide success, launching the Jacksons back into the popular imagination.  Michael, however, had been tapped for a starring role in The Wiz, producer Quincy Jones’ all-black remake of The Wizard of Oz starring Michael’s former advocate Diana Ross as Dorothy.  Michael and Quincy’s relationship blossomed, leading to their collaboration on Off the Wall, which cemented Michael’s reputation as a solo star.  “Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough” and “Rock With You” (written by Heatwave’s Rod Temperton, who would later collaborate with Jones and Jackson on Thriller) were better songs than anything on Triumph, and stand as two of the best moments from the disco era.  Much of this was due to Jones’ wrangling of some of the best studio hands of the time, including Temperton, Jeff Porcaro, Larry Carlton, George Duke, and Greg Philligaines. Michael took the opportunity to work on his dance moves and visual style for Wall‘s music videos as well, a notion that would pay off rather well a few years later.

Though Michael was clearly on a star bound trajectory in 1980, he was still devoted (and contractually-bound) to recording and touring with his brothers.  Triumph moved away from disco toward the realm of stadium-sized electronic pop, topping Destiny‘s sales and reaching platinum status.  The lead track, “Can You Feel It,” with shared lead vocals by Jackie and Michael, reflected the group’s stratospheric ambition and self-regard. The video (released the same year MTV launched, and three years before the network committed to playing black music videos) positioned the group, quite literally, as emerging from prehistoric cosmic forces and standing larger than life.  “Feel It” stalled in the ’70s on the pop charts (though it charted much higher in Europe). The first single, “Lovely One,” essentially a retread of the horn-and-string-laden, groove-based Destiny singles, reached no.12.

Though it didn’t succeed as a single to the extent of “Lovely One”, the Michael-penned “This Place Hotel” (changed from “Heartbreak Hotel” to avoid a lawsuit) signaled his clear separation from the group, as well as his obvious admiration for another former teen idol who moved toward making “adult” music, Paul McCartney (whom Jackson met during Off the Wall). “This Place Hotel” was in many ways a precursor to Thriller‘s “Billie Jean”: a narrative of being “done wrong” by a mysterious woman.  The lyrics suggest as much: “We came to this place, where the vicious dwell / And found that wicked women run this strange hotel.”  After Triumph, Michael would reconnect with Jones, McCartney and others to record 1982’s Thriller.  Though the Jacksons would reform for the 1984 LP Victory, Michael’s moonwalk during the 1983 “Motown 25” special, coupled with a few groundbreaking music videos of his own, meant that the longstanding star of the Jackson family had finally broken off on his own.

These new “expanded editions” do much to clean up the poor digital mastering from the original CD pressings of the albums, but they do not contain much else in the way of essential bonus material.  The five extra tracks include four remixes from the same era by noted DJ and producer John Luongo, and the liner notesby critic Ernest Hardyspeak in very romantic language about the impact of the Jacksons on pop culture, pop music, and African American art in general.

Posted by Eric Harvey

Thriller 25

thriller25.jpgTitle: Thriller 25
Artist: Michael Jackson
Label: Legacy
Catalog No.: 88697 22096 2
Date: 2008

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Thriller, “the world’s biggest selling album of all time” (the official subtitle), Legacy has released a deluxe casebook limited edition CD and DVD tucked into either end of a hardcover booklet featuring 48 pages of color stills from the music videos along with historic photos and song texts. One of the hottest 2008 releases thus far, the compilation has been hitting the top of the charts worldwide, no doubt introducing a whole new generation to the iconic album.

In addition to the digitally remastered original tracks, Thriller 25 includes six previously unreleased tracks, primarily remixes by contemporary artists in collaboration with Jackson. The best of these are will.i.am’s versions of “The Girl is Mine” and “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing),” plus Akon‘s remix of “Wanna Be Startin’ Something.” These three songs were the most pop oriented tracks on the original album and benefit greatly from the contemporary edge brought to the project by a couple of today’s hottest artist/producers. I was less enthusiastic about the remixes of “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” by Fergie and Kanye West, respectively. It’s a tall order to be sure, and though Fergie and West approach these classics with great respect and the remixes have a couple of inspired moments, overall they just seem unnecessary (though I expect the younger generation may disagree). The CD closes with “For All Time,” which was recorded by Jackson during the original Thriller sessions but didn’t make the final cut, for reasons that are readily apparent.

What makes this deluxe edition especially worthwhile is the inclusion of a DVD featuring the digitally remastered music videos (or short films, to be more accurate) for “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” and “Thriller.” Also included is Jackson’s “Billie Jean” performance from the now legendary television special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, and Forever, where he introduced the moonwalk and created an immediate sensation. Back in the day, these Thriller videos literally “blew up” MTV and were significant on several different levels: by elevating music videos to an art form, by introducing intricate group dance numbers, by revitalizing R&B, and most importantly, by breaking the color barrier.

For those not old enough to remember, MTV originated on cable TV in the early ’80s as a venue for rock videos and initially featured only white musicians. Jackson and his record company lobbied hard to get on MTV (CBS Records president Walter Yetnikoff allegedly threatened to pull all of their product off the air and tell the public that MTV refused to play music by a black artist if they didn’t relent). Jackson not only got the “Billie Jean” and “Thriller” videos on the air, but they were such huge hits that MTV’s ratings shot into the stratosphere. As a result, Jackson was instrumental in paving the way for other black artists, such as Run DMC and Prince, who were also regularly featured on MTV in the ’80s. This has all been well-documented elsewhere, but it is worth mentioning again for those who weren’t around 25 years ago, especially since it goes a long way towards explaining how the pressures to crossover may have affected Jackson’s self-image and led to some of his eccentricities.

The Legacy staff has gone into overdrive to promote the album, including lots of “new media” features on the official website. The most noteworthy is the launch of Thrillercast, an all-star podcast series that features “legends of music, film and culture taking you behind the scenes to their own experiences with Michael and hearing the album for the first time.” The first four episodes have now been mounted and include discussions by Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, will.i.am, Nick Cannon, and Shane Sparks. Each podcast runs about 10 minutes and offers up lots of fascinating details regarding the impact of the album and videos.

In closing, I think it is worth noting the various editions of Thriller 25 that are currently available. In addition to the deluxe casebook edition reviewed here, Legacy is also offering a standard two-disc package. If you choose to download the album from iTunes or Amazon MP3, you apparently have the option of getting the “Super Deluxe Edition,” featuring bonus material from Thriller Special Edition (the 2001 reissue that included interviews with Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton) plus a “Billie Jean” underground mix, an instrumental “Thriller” mix, an extended “Billie Jean” and a digital booklet. Albums sold through the big box stores (Target, Best Buy, and Circuit City) all have slightly different track configurations and bonus mixes.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss