We all remember the highpoints…the silky, ominous throb of the amazing “Billie Jean”, the propulsive energy of “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”, the smooth and pleasing pop sheen of “Human Nature”, the paradoxically goofy and funky title track (major props to the late, great Vincent Price for his “rap”), and the snarling rock and roll marriage of Jackson’s voice and Eddie Van Halen’s guitar on the still-potent “Beat It”…with abiding (and well-deserved) fondness.
A lot of what made those songs even more indelible is not only that they were great tracks but also that most of them had interesting videos that were in heavy rotation on MTV (back when MTV…you know…played videos during most of the day and night.)
The rest of Thriller is, truth to be told, mostly just okay. “The Girl is Mine”, the duet with Paul McCartney, was and is a harmless pop trifle, “Baby Be Mine” was and is a generic Quincy Jones pop/soul mid-tempo jam, “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” was and is silly and annoying (yeah, I know it was a hit…I don’t care…it’s still silly and annoying), and “The Lady in my Life” (yes another “hit”) was and is a limp, unconvincing love ballad.
For the 25th anniversary edition CD, the original album is supplemented with two outtakes and four remixes. None of this stuff adds much to the record. The best of the lot is an amusing 24-second clip from Vincent Price’s voiceover track work for “Thriller”. The other outtake is “For All Time”, a pleasant enough (though ultimately forgettable) love song that might have been left out because the melody sounds more than a bit like “Human Nature”.
None of the remixes comes close to improving on the originals. “Billie Jean 2008” featuring Kanye West (whose vocal contributions consist mainly of throwing in the odd “yeah, yeah” here and there) slows the tempo down and buries the track’s strongest feature, that tight bass line, in the mix while Akon adds nothing interesting to “Wanna Be Startin’ Something 2008”. “P.Y.T. 2008” is only made even more silly and annoying with the addition of will.i.am and the idea of turning “Beat It” into a duet between Jackson and Fergie may have seemed like a good one on paper (though I find that hard to believe) but it was a bad idea when executed.
Thriller is, flaws and all, still a remarkable pop record even if this anniversary edition really doesn’t add anything good to its legacy.