Michael Jackson’s masterpiece still a ‘Thriller’

Posted on March 8, 2008 

Michael Jackson’s masterpiece still a ‘Thriller’

Thriller

There are two ways to listen to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” 25 years after its release. Scandal addicts will find trace evidence of the obsessions that would sink the greatest pop star of his generation into Hollywood Babylon: the repressed, explosive sexuality in his breathy vocals; the racial ambivalence he’d encode on his body, evident in genre-busting songs such as “Beat It”; the innocence fetish that made ballads like “Human Nature” sparkle but led the singer into a shadowy life among paid-off children in his own Neverland.

The dirty stuff is all there. But so is wonder, pure and complex, and some willful forgetting can bring you back to it. Put aside Jacko, the tragic example. Return to Michael, the musical prodigy who filtered a host of cross-cultural and intergenerational influences through his own weird radar to create music as surprising as it was definitive.

Enjoy that Michael, at play in the fields of new technology with producer Quincy Jones and the best team of studio pros since Brian Wilson roped in the Wrecking Crew. At 24, that Michael embodied the vertiginous power of being young — his love songs were all longing and playful innuendo, his angry songs half bluster and half nightmare.

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