“Why the hell should I like… ?” is an experiment of sorts between Popblerd and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. What we’re going to attempt to do is to pick 10 songs from our favorite artists — one for which the other has professed dislike or disinterest — and show them why they’re wrong.
I can’t say exactly why I have never sat down and listened to much of Michael Jackson’s post-Thriller music. It’s not as if he released a ton of records in the aftermath of that album. Well actually, I do know why. I moved into my metal phase and suddenly he just wasn’t interesting to me anymore. And then he tried to be all tough-looking when Bad came out, and I wrote him off as a washed-up weirdo.
(check out Blerd’s suggested MJ playlist here.)
So it was with a great deal of interest that I tackled my first assignment in our little back-and-forth musical exercise — to give a chance to Jacko’s music after Thriller. I’ll spoil the ending for you by admitting that I liked some of it enough to listen to some more, but I’m still fairly convinced that his best artistic days were already in his rear view mirror by about 1984.
One thing I can never deny is Michael’s pure talent. That much was on display on “Tell Me I’m Not Dreamin’ (Too Good to Be True,” his duet with brother Jermaine. While Jermaine holds his own and it is a damn catchy song, Michael was clearly in a class of his own as a vocalist. It’s not surprise that he’s the only really good thing about Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me.”
I think that beyond his public image, one of the biggest problems I had with MJ’s later music was the production. This is especially true of Bad, which takes some really good songs like “Smooth Criminal” or “The Way You Make Me Feel” and strangles them to within an inch of their lives. Much love for Quincy Jones, but his antiseptic production on Bad is a musical crime. “The Way You Make Me Feel” should be light and breezy, but instead it sounds cold and clinical thanks to those awful synthesized instruments. Blech.
Where things get interesting is on the material from Dangerous. While the songs you threw my way (“Can’t Let Her Get Away” and “Remember the Time (New Jack Jazz mix)”) are just as tied to their era as the ones from Bad, they just pop and groove a lot more. I don’t think I had ever even heard of New Jack Swing as a term before, but maybe it’s more my style than robotic R&B. It’s kind of funny that Ice Cube took such a militant stance against it, and now he’s shilling for shitty beer and producing shitty comedies. But I digress.
The absolute best track of this bunch is “Remember the Time (New Jack Jazz mix).” I was already familiar with the album version, and I’ll say that it’s one of my 10 favorite MJ songs ever. But this mix almost makes it better. It reminds me a lot of the downbeat/nu jazz I listen to and love.
The Invincible tracks (“Butterflies” and “Whatever Happens”) were solid, but left me with the impression that by the time the new century rolled around Michael had long since given up being ahead of the curve. “Butterflies,” which sounds like something from Off the Wall, is good but could’ve been released by just about any popular R&B singer from 2001. There’s very little of that spark that makes MJ’s best material shine. Same goes for “Whatever Happens,” which sounds like something that rolled off the assembly line rather than flowed from the heart.
So to sum up, I don’t think I missed the boat on a whole lot of fantastic music by stopping at Thriller. But his later work is also a lot more interesting and engaging than I expected it to be. I’m still left, overall, with a feeling of sadness over all that wasted potential and over the spectacle of his very public deterioration.
- Why the Hell Should I Like… post-‘Thriller’ Michael Jackson? (grayflannelsuit.net)
- Jacko Anniversary: Thriller Jacket To Be Sold (news.sky.com)
- bLISTerd: The 20 Best Michael Jackson Songs (Part Two) (popblerd.com)
- Jheri Curl Fridays 01: “Torture” (popdose.com)
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