Thriller – Michael Jackson – 1982
First listen?: Yes
No sooner had I listened to my very first Michael Jackson album I was onto my second, the critical and commercial peak of his long career. Thriller is often cited as the ‘perfect’ pop record, where every track is a potential single; a short but sweet shot of pop music. Nearly every song on Thriller did see a release too, there were only 2 songs I didn’t recognise on the tracklist, 7 out of 9 of them becoming singles. After listening to Bad my expectations were surprisingly high for this, especially as a non-fan. Overall it didn’t feel like the perfectly tight record I was told it would be. It’s surprisingly diverse for such a short record. The low points aren’t frequent, but for me they really dragged down the overall record for me. The Paul McCartney duet The Girl Is Mine is especially grating, which features one of the most awkward ‘talky bits’ I’ve ever heard. The 2 ‘new’ songs for me didn’t do much for me either, Baby Be Mine being far outclassed by the thunderous carnival jam of an opener Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, a song that would go on to become the blueprint for so many of the massive hits in the last decade. That said, the high points are numerous and truly incredible at times. Human Nature sees Michael’s powerful soulful voice shine through, as I mentioned when I talked about Bad it’s so nice to hear MJ actually just sing without ad-libbing too much. Beat It and Thriller are aggressive and dark, while P.Y.T. recalls Jackson 5 era disco. Of course the centerpiece in Thriller is Billie Jean a song I feel I haven’t given due credit in the time I’ve written and talked about pop music. That is as perfect as a song can be. An instantly punchy riff that has only grown stronger with age, every second of Billie Jean has been crafted to perfection. It’s a masterclass in pop music that has become iconic in every possible way. As an album I’d say that while the high points are stronger, Thriller falls just short of the consistency of Bad. Of course the music is only half of the story with Thriller, it’s about the music videos, the performances and the overall dominance that Michael Jackson had for the years following its release. The modern album campaign as we know it owes a debt to Thriller, where every single release is a ‘moment’ and the success of the album as a whole is down to the smaller pieces that make it up. If The Beatles ‘invented’ the album, then Michael Jackson invented the single with Thriller.
Will I listen again?: Probably not, despite enjoying it a lot.
Best Track: There’s only one song that could possibly be chosen here, Billie Jean is perfect. I do really like Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ as well though.