(Part 3 of a 2 part series in which, the great, 1537 visits some of the most obscure, hard-to-find indie releases in
his collection his vinyl gulag for your audio delectation)
Here’s the deal, now I think we’re good enough friends that I can let you know my secret shame*. On the bottom shelf of my music room**, on the bit of the shelf hidden by the chair are my neatly organised boxes 7″ singles, look a bit closer down there … see? yup in what can only be described as a vinyl internment camp are about 25 LPs shivering away in the dark, unloved/unalphabeticised (the same thing in my book), unclaimed – welcome to Vinyl Purgatory. The inmates here a rum bunch, LPs I was given, just waiting to be processed to see if they can stay or not a Moody Blues LP, two Elton John ones I couldn’t quite throw away, some Graham Parker & The Rumour, a few later Roxy Music albums, something by 10cc and … the best-selling album of all time, Michael Jackson Thriller.
I was 10 when Thriller was released and was pretty much totally untouched by it^, well as much as you can be by an all-conquering global cultural phenomenon; although the videos made me much more of a fan of his dancing than his music. I have never, ever listened to this LP before now. I thought since I’d had a go at Back In Black and the Eagles Their Greatest Hits – a total of 58.1 million US sales, I may as well have a go at this one and boost the total to 106.2 million; not bad for 3 posts.
I go into this with a totally open mind too. The fact that Jackson ended up being destroyed by his own success and transmogrified over time into an ossified Peter Pan/Freddie Kruger figure that looked like his heart sporadically pumped formaldehyde around his decaying system, is not relevant here. Neither is the fact that his unironic messianic self-image always repulsed me on what must have been a sub-atomic level. Also totes irrelevant is the fact that I’ve had three glasses of white wine, on a Monday night – oh yeah, it’s just like Guns ‘n Roses on the road in 1987 around here^^.
First impression is just how artificial everything sounds, every beat, every instrument, every squeak has been treated somehow, somewhere, somewhy. I find that stultifying, like reaching for the fruit bowl to find that tempting apple has been sculpted out of wax. I’m not someone who needs ‘real’ instrument sounds but when the nearest you have on a whole LP is Paul McCartney’s voice, not the heartiest of instruments by this point, then I have an issue; and yes I do really like the Eddie Van Halen solo on ‘Beat It’, but even that sounds a bit synthetic. Quincy Jones created a real commercial monster here but to my mind it feels like the whole thing is covered in cling wrap, sterile. Incidentally I had no idea that the guys from Toto were so involved in the making of Thriller.
Second impression is how good opener ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin” (was there a ‘G’ famine in ’82?) was. It got better as it went on, sounding almost African in the rhythms and backing vocals, this is the first time to my knowledge that I’ve ever heard it and then I remembered and checked, via Bing, this was the song that Manu Dibango sued Jackson over because it used portions of his ‘Soul Makossa’ uncredited. Regardless, it starts Thriller off really well.
Ignoring the largely disturbing illustration for ‘The Girl Is Mine’ – women are obscenely thin, clawed, large-knockered possessions whose faces you can never really look at, apparently; the song is shit awful. To buy into it you have to accept Jackson as some kind of earthy lady-killer type, hell you have to accept that the man had a penis – I’m not sure I do. For my money I’d be willing to bet that if you unwrapped the man he’d have had a totally smooth, rounded, featureless groin like an Action Man figure. Please if you are in possession of photographic evidence that disproves my theory, please don’t try to prove it to me, just go hand yourself into the authorities. Did I say this tune was a piece of doggone doggerel yet?
The title track, shorn of its’ brilliant video (I can still do the main dance routine, step by step) was a disappointment. It just wafted past me a bit on a light cloud of treble, not really registering, despite the fact I already liked it. Vincent Price still rules though, I am fond of a good bit of narration in a song. Besides, this is virtually death metal-ish,
Creatures crawl in search of blood
To terrorize y’awl’s neighbourhood
And whosoever shall be found
Without the soul for getting down
Must stand and face the hounds of hell
And rot inside a corpse’s shell.
On the flip side ‘Beat It’ and ‘Billie Jean’ do form an entertaining 1-2 combo, although when I listen to the former all I can hear is Weird Al Yankovic – which is no hardship. I think ‘Billie Jean’ is the best thing here by far, punchy poppy and fun, until I read the lyrics tonight I had no idea it was actually such a negative song, quite subversively so.
I find the rest of Thriller quite horrid and bland, I’m sure if I’d had the LP at the right time I might have some nostalgic attachment to it but I don’t, all I have is 2016 ears^*. But what do I know? I’m just a wannabe hepcat who’s never quite managed to sell 48.1 million records. I’m not being all holier-than-thou about things either, I’ve always been a total sucker for a good pop record, although experience teaches me that pop is a medium best explored by single, rather than album. My real problem with this record is that it sounds utterly bereft of any kind of ‘real’, whether that be in feeling, or in sound, it lacks any discernible soul for me. Totally plastic. Maybe there’s an irony there in that Jackson arguably came to embody Thriller over the years, a retreat from the real.
So Thriller, a couple of goodies and the whiff of ersatz music and sentiment. Sorry, but back to Vinyl Purgatory for you.
642 Down (still)
*no, not the thing about the ladies’ undergarments that I accidentally ‘borrowed’ from the washing line, that was all a big mistake/miscarriage of justice. No, nor the thing about me having three nipples either – I’m not remotely ashamed about that, or the cloven hooves.
**or, ‘the front room’ if you happen to be Mrs 1537 – I think it’s way cooler the way I say it.
^you can see the headlines, almost ‘Child Untouched By Michael Jackson’. Umm, allegedly and stuff.
^*Umm, I mean ears from 2016, not that I’m some kind of creepy alien life form from the planet Earion IV, who has 2016 ears. Actually not that my ears date from this year either, they’re getting to be borderline retro ears now – vintage almost. Damn, writing stuff for pedants is a difficult game.