Beyond Playlist: Michael Jackson and More

Michael Jackson Thriller 25 (Epic/Legacy)

Thriller’s continuing ubiquity -- not to mention MJ’s descent into epic creepiness -- makes the planet’s best-selling album as difficult to objectively analyze as The Wizard of Oz. But the 25th-anniversary edition’s best moments remain stellar, even if some cuts taste cheesier than Kraft Singles.

The extras are a wash. An okay companion DVD includes three music videos and the famed Motown 25 moonwalking segment, but superstar remixes featuring the likes of, Kanye West and Fergie range from tolerable to teeth-grinding. As for the original tracks, the Paul McCartney duet “The Girl Is Mine” comes across as laughable in a bad (rather than Bad) way, and “The Lady in My Life” would fall flat even if we didn’t suspect that Michael’s current amour is a ten-year-old boy named Chad. But “Billie Jean” deserves its era-highlight status, while “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” and other less omnipresent ditties hold more freshness than anyone might have expected.

Not all of their thrills are gone. -- Michael Roberts

Lenny Kravitz It Is Time for a Love Revolution (Virgin)

Lenny Kravitz hates it when critics call him retro, contending that love, revolution and smooching should belong to every generation. But Kravitz doesn’t do himself any favors by releasing albums like his latest, which rips off such classic-rock icons as David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and Queen -- lock, stock and smoking barrel. For instance, “A Long and Sad Goodbye” sounds suspiciously like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” while “I Love the Rain” is pure Zep. Kravitz even gets his J. Lo on via “Love Love Love,” which anachronistically updates “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” for the 1970s. Mostly, however, he rips off himself, especially on “If You Want It,” which borrows the mood, the central premise and a lyric from his 1993 hit “Believe.” Throw in some of the most basic metaphors conceivable -- guess what “Back in Vietnam” is about? -- and you’ve got an album only the young, idealistic and stoned could love. -- Ben Westhoff

Taarka The Martian Picture Soundtrack (Frogville Records)

Multi-instrumentalist David Tiller and violinist Enion Pelta-Tiller, who anchor Taarka, recently relocated from Oregon to Lyons, a town known for its gifted acousticians -- and judging by The Martian Picture Soundtrack, they should fit right in. The disc is jaunty and precise, yet beguilingly enigmatic.

The Taarka two are casually virtuosic players, more than holding their own alongside nationally known guests such as violinists Darol Anger and Casey Driessen. Together they display a range wide enough to encompass the lively “Flight of the Snowbird” and a stirringly dour take on Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman.” As a bonus, the pair sing, too, with Enion sweetening David’s effectively gruff vocals on “Changes Should Come Easy.”

In fact, if there’s anything wrong with the album, it’s that Enion only croons the lead on one track, the wonderfully simple “50 Miles.” Otherwise, it’s a mighty fine Soundtrack. -- Roberts

Otem-Rellik Chain Reaction Robot (Ponowai Flora)

When indie rockers started borrowing heavily from hip-hop’s fearless and shameless appropriation of samples -- even going so far as to create their own -- the world was introduced to the first wave of sound-collage artists. And then came grime, a style created by adventurous producers who stitched hip-hop to electronic music. On its latest effort, Chain Reaction Robot, Otem-Rellik fuses the kindred styles brilliantly, resulting in a sound that recalls Why? and the Postal Service -- despite the fact that the act doesn’t really borrow from either. Exploring themes of existential doubt and dark thoughts spurred by endless nights spent alone with too little to do and too much time to think, the album doesn’t pander at all to the less-than-inspiring aspects of mainstream hip-hop. Instead, Otem-Rellik offers a glimpse of what hip-hop and indie rock can be when more risks are taken. -- Tom Murphy

White Williams/Dirty Projectors "Blue Steel"/"Police Story" (Fader/Southern Comfort)

Fader's fabulous seven-inch series hits another peak with this split single co-starring White Williams, a recent Domino Records signee, and the enigmatic Dirty Projectors. The Williams track, "Blue Steel," is an intriguing slab of Odelay-style pop that concludes with a quirky, quasi-ambient coda. In contrast, "Police Story," an eccentric Black Flag cover from the act's Rise Above album, finds main Projector Dave Longstreth warbling in his piercing but strangely compelling falsetto against a dramatic ballad backdrop. As a bonus, the single sports a large center hole for jukebox play -- a feature that allows owners of vintage boxes to immediately upgrade the coolness value of their vinyl collection. To learn more, e-mail [email protected] Include the word "Seven" in the subject line. -- Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts