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Easy Star All-Stars - 'Thrillah'

Michael Jackson's Thriller Re-Imagined

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Easy Star All-Stars - 'Thrillah'
© Easy Star Records
Easy Star All-Stars, a collective of reggae artists who number a few dozen strong, have released several full-length reggae and dub covers of classic albums: Dub Side of the Moon (a cover of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon), Radiodread (a cover of Radiohead's OK Computer), and Easy Stars Lonely Hearts Dub Band (a cover of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band). This time around, they've set their sights on Michael Jackson's 1983 masterpiece Thriller. Conceptually, I like it. The execution, though, is sadly uneven and falls a bit flat at several points.

Full Review

The other three records that ESAS has covered have all been quite different than Thriller, for several reasons. They're all rock albums (of one subgenre or another), for starters. Dark Side of the Moon and Sgt. Pepper are also both concept albums, and OK Computer may not intentionally be a concept album, but does have strong lyrical and stylistic threads running throughout.>

Thriller, on the other hand, is a more loosely-grouped collection of songs, and genre-wise, was a cutting-edge bit of pop music, incorporating elements of R&B, electronic post-disco, and a slick urban take on the adult contemporary music of the time. Listening to Thrillah, it becomes clear how important the sound of the music itself was to the success of the album. Take the opener, "Wanna Be Startin' Something." The ESAS cover in question doesn't sound terribly different from the original, as it turns out, but if you think about it for a minute, how could it really be successfully changed? The quick and punchy lyrics themselves make up a crucial element of the song's rhythm and sound. Layering some horns over the top does not change it dramatically. And, indeed, that ends up being the theme for a lot of the album: it's just not different enough from the original to truly grab your attention and hold it. Partly, I think that's because Michael Jackson's particular brand of urban pop music is too closely related, in a musicological sense, to reggae and dub music to achieve the same striking overhaul we saw in Dub Side of the Moon and the others, but I also think it's because the songs on Thriller are, by and large, brilliant little self-contained gems where lyric, music, and rhythm are almost inextricable from each other.

Indeed, it becomes increasingly clearer and clearer as you make your way through Thrillah how perfect many of the songs on Thriller were in the first place. The reggae covers are certainly entertaining enough, and they're beautifully executed by some of the finest talents in reggae music (the Easy Star All-Stars themselves are joined by Steel Pulse, The Green, Mojo Morgan, Luciano, and many more). And there certainly are high points: "Thriller" sounds great as a smoothed-out and funky slow reggae number, and "Beat It," featuring Mickey Rose, would, in a less-forced context, be a standout cover in and of itself. "Close to Midnight," a dub version of "Thriller" which is included at the end of the album, is a little bit outside of the theme, definitely easy on the ears, and certainly shows that some very smart producers put a lot of thought into this project. However, the more I listen to the album as a whole, the more I just want to go back and hear Michael Jackson's original.

'Thrillah' was released by Easy Star Records in August of 2012. Total playing time is one hour.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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