Monday music stuff – Michael Jackson, Tapes ‘n Tapes, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss

This month saw the release of a 25th Anniversary edition of Michael Jackson’s seminal album Thriller (even though it originally came out in November ’82). I owned the album on vinyl back in the day, and loved it to death before I officially renounced All Things Not Metal around ’84/’85. My palette is considerably broader than it used to be, so I gave the album another listen today.

Removing any historical context from Thriller (which is difficult), it is still a very good album; I just can’t say that it’s deserving of its near universal acclaim and ridiculous sales figures (more than 104 million sold!). There are some rather clunky production flourishes added by Quincy Jones (the title track in particular sounds pretty goofy now), and a lot of it does sound rather dated. That said, it is a winner in terms of sheer songwriting craft and energy. While “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” still hold up as pop standards a quarter century later, I have to say that “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”, “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)”, and “Human Nature” are really the standout songs.

Still, there are weak spots. The slightly hokey “The Girl Is Mine” isn’t even the best duet Jackson recorded with Paul McCartney – “Say Say Say” gets that honor. Album closer “The Lady in My Life” was only one of two songs from Thriller not to be released as a single, and for good reason.

Songs aside, it’s easy to forget that before he became a Freak (capital F needed), Michael Jackson was not just a great dancer but a damn fine vocalist. It was rather pleasant to hear him sing with seemingly boundless conviction and energy, instead of with the breathy sedateness and abundance of vocal tics he employed later in his career. I would say that at the time he was the best vocalist in the genre since Stevie Wonder. Which just makes his decline all the more sad.

OK, onto other matters. Music site Stereogum published two items you should check out today. The first is a series of videos from a recent CMT special featuring Robert Plant & Alison Krauss. They performed their fantastic rendition of “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)“, which was one of the best songs of 2007, as well as a pair of Led Zeppelin classics (“When the Levee Breaks” and “Black Dog”).

What struck me about watching the reworking of the two Zeppelin songs was how it seems that I was watching the music return to its roots. Zep began as a essentially a blues band with amplifiers, and now their music being brought full circle. Rock purists may cringe at the seemingly subdued arrangements, but I love them. Also, I just cannot get enough of Alison Krauss’ voice. It’s just so refreshing to hear a female singer perform with her natural talents and not employ the host of grating affectations that plague so many of today’s singers.

The other item of note is the first single from the upcoming Tapes ‘n Tapes album, Walk It Off – “Hang Them All.” Stereogum has a downloadable mp3 for your listening pleasure, and I highly recommend it. It features a tighter arrangement and beefier sound than 2005’s The Loon, but their basic sound is still intact. If this is any indication of how the full album will sound, we may have an early candidate for best album of 2008.

Now go forth and listen…shamon!

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