With Thriller’s silky smooth production, near-perfect mix and Michael’s soulful vocals decorated over some stellar instrumentation – is it any surprise that it was and remains the best-selling record of all time?
|Artist: Michael Jackson
Album Title: Thriller
Genre: Pop / Funk
Label: Epic – CBS
Following the success and critical acclaim of his previous studio album, Off The Wall, Michael Jackson went through a transitional period before beginning work on Thriller. Despite its success Jackson saw the success of his fifth studio album as an under-performance. The singer felt undervalued, unhappy and withdrawn – it’s hardly a surprise that he vowed to become the biggest and best in the music industry and to kick of this campaign was Thriller.
This 9 track, 42 minute long record explores musical themes previously utilised on Off The Wall. There are elements of Funk, Post-Disco, Rock and Pop. It all kicks off with the funk rock belter ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’’, with a rock-steady beat, a dark grooving bass riff and guitars cutting in as decoration alongside some horns. It really sets the tone of the record. There’s a maturity to Jackson; despite this being a track hitting back out against the gossip and press, this doesn’t sound like a sulky kid singing lyrics he doesn’t fully understand. He sounds angry and steadfast in his convictions, occasionally spitting the words “You gotta be startin’ somethin’”.
‘Baby Be Mine’ has more Pop sensibilities but retains that funk element that pulses throughout the record. The bass thumbs along with Michael’s vocals drifting along the track as synths fades in and out. It’s a pleasant song that leads into the light-hearted and more synth heavy ‘The Girl Is Mine’, which features a playful duet between Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney. These two tracks add a balance to the record with their light and fun nature due to the tracks like ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’’, ‘Billie Jean’, and ‘Beat it’ delving into darker themes.
The title track is my personal favourite in terms of mixing and production. The use of sampling is done so well, whether it’s the sound of the wind blowing or a wolf howling. There’s nothing overbearing, all the samples add to the context of the track which almost acts as a Horror film itself. It’s simply genius and the instrumentation is perfect for it; the steady rhythm allowing ample room for the synths, guitars and samples to dance around the track. Michael’s emotive vocals really set the scene and he sings/ narrates it incredibly. The fact that Vincent Price performs a monologue/rap towards the back end of the track is fantastic as well.
‘Beat It’ is the most Rock sounding track on the album and one of the more darkly thematic with its anti-gang and anti-violent message. It gets your head bobbing with an electro-pop beat that a short fill later leads into the now-iconic ‘Beat It’ guitar lick. It’s hard not to want to move to this track as it has this funky driven sound blended into this rock guitar lick. Synths subtly flow through the choruses which really uplift the song, the only time they’re broken up is when the killer solo (performed by Eddie Van Halen) stomps in and takes over.
The record continues the gradual build up, peaking at ‘Billie Jean’. The paranoia which is touched upon really shines through on this track. An infectious number about an obsessive fan that alleges Michael is the father of her child. Like much of the rhythm throughout the beat is simple and the bass thumping – allow more room for other instrumentation to fill out the space around Michael’s vocals.
The last three tracks, ‘Human Nature’, ‘P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)’ and ‘The Lady in My Life’ ease us towards the end. ‘Human Nature’ is delicate and gentle with the choruses almost acting like waves lulling against a beach. ‘P.Y.T.’, gives us one last blast of lively Pop Funk before bowing out and making way for ‘The Lady in My Life’. A sombre, sultry ballad the truly highlights Michael’s ability as a vocalist.
The album as whole feels like a wave, slowly building to a peak in the middle of the album with ‘Thriller’, ‘Beat It’ and ‘Billie Jean’ before gently rolling down and away in the last three tracks. The record is incredible from start to finish, with fantastic production, mixing and instrumentation. It’s a statement; it was Michael Jackson’s first step in his campaign to conquer the world.