Michael Jackson – Off the Wall (Deluxe Edition) (Epic/Legacy) review
MJ’s first solo album as an adult is arguably his best
Face it: Michael Jackson was so good for so long, that we took him for granted. The fact that he was able to transition from that cute little eleven-year old that fronted the Jackson 5 on the Ed Sullivan Show, to worldwide popstar, is an occurrence that deserves more accolades. The fortuitous teaming with producer Quincy Jones created lightning in a bottle: Off the Wall still stands as a groundbreaking fusion of R&B and pop, even if it’s consistently overshadowed by its successor, Thriller.
Off the Wall came out in 1979, at the peak of Disco, yet it manages to still sound fresh by avoiding some of the trappings of that ill-fated genre. Instead of hand claps and wah wah, you get lots of funky grooves played by ace musicians. And, there is an exuberance in Jackson’s performances that makes the album undeniably contagious.
Michael Jackson would go on to bigger pop success, but he would never record an album funkier than Off The Wall.
The record is sequenced beautifully. On the album’s opener, “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough,” a pulsing bass creates anticipation, before settling into a monster groove. “Rock With You” slows things down, sliding along on a slinky bassline that was built to roller skate to. “Working Day and Night” is dirtier funk, with horns and insistent percussion, while “Get on the Floor” is fueled by a phat, phat bass.
The eerie feel of “Off The Wall” Jackson would revisit on “Thriller.” The bassline of this track is reminiscent of Heatwave’s “The Groove Line,” and both were penned by Rod Temperton. Jones and Jackson would find great songs in a variety of places – even covering Paul McCartney’s “Girlfriend.”
Side two of the original album has a decidedly “Quiet Storm” feel to it, with songs like the gorgeous ballad “She’s Out of My Life” (where Jackson actually cries at the end), and “I Can’t Help It,” turn the heat down to a sultry simmer. The final cut, “Burn This Disco Out,” uplifts things for a big, funk-infused finish.
Accompanying the remastered album is Michael Jackson’s Journey From Motown to Off the Wall, an excellent documentary directed by Spike Lee. Through extensive, candid interviews with Jackson’s parents and brothers, CBS executives, and entertainers, both past and present, we get a deeper appreciation for how amazing his transformation from child star to international pop icon really was. A surprise inclusion is basketball legend Kobe Bryant, who talks about how Michael’s influence affected him, both on and off the court.
A quick note about the clever packaging: the CD/DVD set comes with a compartment that contains a piece of chalk. Opening the gatefold cover reveals a surface made for writing – allowing fans to write ON the wall.
Jackson’s followup, Thriller, would go on to become the biggest-selling album of all-time. It’s clever blending of pop and rock with R&B is part of the album’s continued legacy. Yet, much of the record features dated digital percussion and production techniques, where Off the Wall leaned more toward natural instrumentation. For its danceability and consistency, Off the Wall is Michael Jackson’s finest moment. —Tony Peters