1982, Music

Thriller (1982) by Michael Jackson

Much like Bad, so many of the songs from Thriller were hits when I was a little kid that I know more of this record than I could have ever imagined. That knowledge once again puts me in a weird position, having the memory of what some of these songs sounded like to me as a child, compared to how they sound to adult music snob me.

Some of this works pretty well, even though it’s music I generally do not enjoy:

  • “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” is one of the best things Jackson did during the ’80s, in my completely uninformed opinion. If I ignore the lyrics, it’s got an insistent rhythm and a weird vocal performance from Jackson, and the guitar solo is hilariously wannabe New Wave. It’s idiosyncratic! I like that.
  • “Beat It” isn’t as good as a I remember (and even Van Halen’s solo was more impressive when I was a kid) but it still works pretty well.
  • But I feel like “Billie Jean” is true highlight. It manages the rare feat of combining (relatively) confessional lyrics with dance music in a pretty convincing way.
  • As pop soul ballads go, “Human Nature” is more than passable.

But there’s some real shit too:

  • Nothing worse than “The Girl Is Mine,” an insipid, awkward and horribly dated duet between the 24-year-old Jackson and the 40-year-old Paul McCartney, which feels like it should be from a decade before at least, doggone it.
  • Also, the title track is not very good. Listen, I know it’s famous, I know we’ve all seen that video a million times, but the song’s strongest asset is that video. The video may be the most important music video ever made (it’s certainly up there) given the introduction of story and the elaborate parody. But the song without the video just does not work for me: it’s highly campy but it also has a rather terrible synth bass part (the other synth bass parts on the record are better incorporated into their songs). I just don’t like it.
  • And “PYT” has dated pretty horribly. I think it would be compelling if there wasn’t so much “cutting edge” technology on it.

But I definitely like this more than the one other Michael Jackson album I’ve heard, which is something. I’m not going to find time in my life for this kind of music, but some of this is well done.


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