With the 30th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s Thriller only a few months ago, there will no doubt be a wealth of celebrations for one of the biggest selling albums of all time. The Easy Star All-Stars have been known for honoring classic albums and groups for a long time, and this time around they cover the entire Thriller album, take it back to Jamaica and return it as Thrillah with a few surprises.
First off, Hawai’i gets representation with The Green, who sit in for “Baby Be Mine”. “The Girl Is Mine” is passed to Mojo Morgan and Steel Pulse, while “Thriller” is extended to over seven minutes with help from Mikey General and Spragga Benz. The great Luciano embraces “Billie Jean”, adds a nice synthy vibe to it and allows listeners to hear it in a new light while retaining its lyrical power.
The biggest surprise is the opening track, “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”, as JoWil and Ruff Scott take it into Afrobeat mode and help take the song and the spirit of Michael Jackson back to Africa, as the original intended to do with the Soul Makossa chant. Cas Haley’s approach to “Human Nature” would work as a hit in 2012 if it was pushed, but I’m not sure if mainstream music fans are ready for that kind of echo in the dub. Speaking of dub, “Beat It” is turned into “Dub It” and “Thriller” becomes “Close To Midnight”, and is the case with most dub mixes, you’re allowed to explore the original by entering the echo chamber, or simply enjoy it for what it is.
I wasn’t a fan of the cover of “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)”, featuring Kirsty Rock on vocals and it’s not her that’s the program, but the arrangement, which is not that far from the original. At least with these other covers, they are given a reggae, ska, dub, or Afrobeat riddim but… it’s okay but not as exciting as it might be if twisted into something else. It falls flat for me. The rest of Thrillah manages to show how well the songs on Thriller hold up without getting too cheesy, sappy, or overly nostalgic, in fact in steps up on its own. It just so happens to be Michael Jackson songs you’re listening to, so even if you replaced the record, cassette, and CD over the years and have your MP3’s in a folder somewhere, you’ll find this tribute to MJ quite good and I’d like to think he would be honored to hear his songs performed this way.