Billie Jean (feat. Luciano) - Easy Star's Thrillah
With the LP work of Pink Floyd (2003's Dub Side of the Moon), Radiohead (2006's Radiodread), and the Beatles (2009's Easy Star's Lonely Hearts Dub Band) already in their past, the Jamaican/American studio band known as Easy Star All-Stars were coming upon a decade of classic album tributes with this reggae redo of Michael Jackson's Thriller, but there's plenty of life left in this formula. After taking a break from the concept with 2011's First Light — their first full-length album of original songs — they've returned with a new attitude, attacking the opening favorite "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" with a double shotgun blast of joy and Afro-pop, as if Fela returned to be crowned the king of post-disco.
It's an instant, unique party, but that familiar Easy Star island flavor returns with the following "Baby Be Mine," a reggae-meets-R&B take with touches of Earth, Wind & Fire and Justin Timberlake, and also a sequential clue that Thrillah covers Thriller in order. Brilliant how the gravelly voice and deep patois accent of Spragga Benz replaces Vincent Price's "rap" during the monumental "Thriller" itself, and interesting how the too cool "Beat It" becomes ominous and dark when played midtempo and with Black Uhuru's Michael Rose as its streetwise teacher. With devout Rastafarian Luciano on the mike, "Billie Jean" is played as a funky techno caution with Biblical verses in the mix, while Cas Haley travels to Margaritaville with his suitably smooth and sweet caressing of "Human Nature." Reggae-disco, cowbells, and in-house singer Kirsty Rock give "P.Y.T." the proper amount of flash, before a dubby version of "The Lady in My Life" and two actual dubs put a wrap on this diverse, fun, and very welcome return to form.
Alanis Morissette was one of the most unlikely stars of the mid-'90s. A former child actress turned dance-pop diva, Morissette later transformed herself into a confessional alternative singer/songwriter in the vein of Liz Phair and Tori Amos. However, she bolstered that formula with enough pop sensibility, slight hip-hop flourishes, and marketing savvy to become a superstar with her third album, Jagged Little Pill.
On "This Love," produced by Prince "BlkMagic" Damons, the sound shifts from 1980/1981 to 1982/1983-style midtempo boogie with chunky synthesizer bass, and a little high-pitched wriggle. There's some electro-funk bounce to "Patrick Ronald" (long for a certain brand of tequila, featuring Monica Blaire, one of album's several Detroit guest stars) and "Special," too. If anything, the album is looser, more relaxed and mischievous, than any Dwele album that preceded it, which is saying something. The majority of the songwriting, as usual, concerns adventures in mature bachelorhood and courtship. Dwele continues to appeal to both female and male listeners — no pandering, no forced masculinity to be heard.