Monday, 24 September 2018
Michael Jackson - Off The Wall (1979)
Released August 1979
Recorded in Los Angeles
This is where it started for Michael Jackson as a serious, adult, solo artist. Taking the smooth, infectious disco-soul sound that had made The Jacksons so successful in the mid-late seventies, he, together with producer Quincy Jones and underrated songwriter Rod Temperton, put out this sumptuous album of upbeat, intoxicating disco songs and syrupy but polished ballads.
Disco had been and gone, of course, several years earlier and the fires of funk were still smoking as their embers died out. What Jackson and his team did here was blend danceable disco elements with bassy, melodic funk rhythms, a brassy punch and some sumptuous string orchestration. There was something in this music for soul fans, something for funk aficionados, something for chart pop enthusiasts and something for disco dancers. Even the drums had a mid-tempo rock beat. The formula was a winning one.
The first two tracks, Jackson's catchy "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and Temperton's funky "Rock With You" were classic examples of this great music that they had hit on. The lively funk of "Working Day And Night" is another. The sound quality is fantastic and another thing that has appeal for me in this material, is that is played by a proper band - proper bass guitar, keyboards and, most importantly, proper drums. The amount of musicians on here is remarkable. As the eighties were not underway, the trend for enveloping everything in synthesisers hadn't arrived yet, thank goodness. This is what makes this album so refreshing, genuine and credible. For me, it is by far Jackson's best solo album.
Even lesser-known tracks like "Get On The Floor" with its "Saturday Night Fever"-style string backing are good ones. Jackson's voice is excellent throughout - he is developing that hiccupy falsetto that would characterise so much of his subsequent material. The percussion on this track is excellent. It's Paulinho Da Costa, so not a surprise. This whole old "side one" is a classic of late seventies disco-funk and it pointed the direction for dance music for the next few years. My favourite from the album is the title track, which, oddly, is never mentioned quite as much as some of his other tracks. God knows why, it's superb. You could actually leave the album at this point, having feasted heartily. Jackson's hiccups are quite remarkable on this song, though. I still can't quite see how he did it. I can't do it to save my life.
Jackson's cover of Paul McCartney & Wings' "Girlfriend" is pleasant enough, but lacks the coper-bottomed funky credibility of the previous songs. "She's Out Of My Life" is heartbreaking and beautifully sung by Jackson, but I prefer the upbeat tracks on the album. I know this is probably heresy, but there you go. There is a lovely bass line underpinning the song's "bridge" half way through, though. Stevie Wonder's late night, laid-back jazzy "I Can't Help It" is excellent, instantly recognisable as a Stevie Wonder song. Carole Bayer Sager's "It's The Falling In Love" sees a welcome return to that intoxicating rhythmic vibe of the first five tracks. The pumping "Burn This Disco Out" is an underrated Jackson classic to end this highly enjoyable, iconic album. It also has to be said that across the whole album, the remastered sound quality is simply superb, just as it should be.
- September 24, 2018