Michael Jackson - Hello World

Michael Jackson
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For all of the magical dust surrounding the lineage and legacy of Motown, by the 1970's some of the luster had faded, even for the most successful acts on the roster. Signing the precocious, yet undeniably talented Jackson 5 not only kept Motown in the black, it reinvigorated the famous brand to an entire new, younger generation of listeners and introduced them all to a performer who would soon eclipse all who came before him: Michael Jackson. And when the colossal hit album Thriller transformed him from a former child star to into a musical supernova, his former label was quick to capitalize on his inescapable fame by re-releasing his early solo hits. While it was good news for those way-back-in-the-day fans, those re-releases didn't always attempt to capture the crispness and the clarity that the masters had been due....until now.

For all of the magical dust surrounding the lineage and legacy of Motown, by the 1970's some of the luster had faded, even for the most successful acts on the roster. Signing the precocious, yet undeniably talented Jackson 5 not only kept Motown in the black, it reinvigorated the famous brand to an entire new, younger generation of listeners and introduced them all to a performer who would soon eclipse all who came before him: Michael Jackson. And when the colossal hit album Thriller transformed him from a former child star to into a musical supernova, his former label was quick to capitalize on his inescapable fame by re-releasing his early solo hits. While it was good news for those way-back-in-the-day fans, those re-releases didn't always attempt to capture the crispness and the clarity that the masters had been due....until now.  Hello World is a long-overdue repackaging of the late entertainer's four solo recordings---Got To Be There, Ben, Music & Me and Forever Michael ---encased in a collector-worthy book form with bonus tracks, never-before released masters and color photos of the young superstar at his breathtakingly-beautiful, apple-hat-rocking, butterfly-collar-cocking, Soul Brother Number One best.

After the warm and well-written liner notes, many fans will turn to the back to read the song credits, and if they've been following his storied career from the jump, they won't be surprised to find his absence from crafting any of the lyrics: that was an intentional omission by The Powers That Be at Motown, and it was the main reason why he and Jackie, Marlon and Tito left for CBS in 1976. Even in his teens, Michael was becoming savvier about the studio and songwriting process, but said frequently in later interviews that he and his brothers felt constrained by the limits the music label put on their individual artistry (and revenue stream). Therefore, part of what makes these songs so bewitching is that not only do his fans get to trace the nuances of his vocal growth from adolescence to young adulthood, they're also treated to the consummate professionalism that enabled him to take even the sappiest material and transform it into true gems.

As on other music collections, some songs here are simply better than others, but all of the tracks have been remastered and infused with refreshing clarity: the harpsichords buttress Jackson' still-tender man-child croon in Music & Me's "Happy" (Love Them From Lady Sings the Blues) and there's a orchestral resonance to Forever, Michael's "We're Almost There." One can really tell the difference between the original mixes and the re-tooled versions: "Melodie," a girlfriend tribute I loved so much as a teen that its title showed up in my daughter's name 20 years later, goes from tepid to tenacious, and "Farewell My Summer Love," has a richer, fuller feel.

As for the new-to-you songs at the end, it's simply amazing that more of them didn't get released as singles, as most are absolutely delightful: the J5's reinterpretation of Jackie Wilson's "Lonely Teardrops" goes from heartbroken to head-nodding, "Love's Gone Bad" is spunky fun, and "Teenage Symphony," although a bit gooey, makes great use of the Jacksons' well-honed harmonies and was a love letter to their fans that would've been deeply appreciated ("Just keep on givin' us love and we can sing our songs: you've touched our souls and inspired the melody. And that's why, we're singing this song especially for you!"). The guys give a soothing, yet somber reading of Stevie Wonder's classic, "I Was made to Love Her," and the best one of all is "Give me Half a Chance." Written by "Never Can Say Goodbye" author Clifton Davis, the song plays like its' ardent, tear-soaked sequel and is one of the best Jackson 5 ballads ever: "Come on and give me a chance, aw I'm gonna win you over, yes I will....if you would, give me half a chance, give me half a chance, there's so much I would do, for you..."

It can be hard to justify buying CDs in this iTunes era of instant music, but for those who consider themselves both old-school and through-the-fire fans of MJ, Hello World encapsulates modern music's most powerful game-changer  at his endearing early stages and illustrates just how many jewels there actually are in that well-deserved crown marking him The King of Pop.

By Melody Charles

 
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