The Easy Star All-Stars had established a reputation for giving a complete reggae makeover to venerable rock records including Dark Side of the Moon, OK Computer and Sgt Pepper before they finally released a full-length CD of their own material, ‘First Light’, in 2011. As well as being a touring band that faithfully reproduces the sound and production of these releases, the Easy Star All-Stars studio line-up has included a list of reggae luminaries who have added their own flavour to the proceedings under the guiding hand of producer Michael Goldwasser.
For this new record it’s back to the business of covering a classic album, this time none other than ‘Thriller’. Whether this latest Easy Star recreation is ambitious or misguided depends on your point of view but as always the production is a particular strength. This is not the first time Jacko’s songs have been given a reggae treatment – Sly and Robbie’s synth-heavy ‘Billie Jean’ is well known. Less widely disseminated, but significantly more impressive, is the Yellowman and Peter Metro take on ‘The Girl is Mine’, a brilliant dancehall revision of the original, complete with its dubbed-up instrumental mix and, perhaps unfortunately for the Easy Stars, a high benchmark for anyone contemplating further reggae reinventions.
As for ‘Thrillah’, alongside regular Easy Star performers including Jenny Hill and Kirsty Rock, the guest contributors on this release include Michael Rose, Mikey General, Luciano and Steel Pulse. So it ought to sound good, and in the sense of production values it does. Following the sequencing of the Michael Jackson original, the album opens with ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, then ‘Baby Be Mine’, but in this translation they don’t lend themselves easily to the off-beats of reggae. ‘The Girl is Mine’ finds its reggae hook more readily, with some involvement from Steel Pulse, generating a gentle lovers’ rock sound. ‘Thriller’ itself is an intriguing take on the song, more understated and less dramatic than the original. When it gets to ‘Beat It’ (featuring Michael Rose) and ‘Billie Jean’ (featuring Luciano) the album finally comes into its own, both tracks suggesting a clubby sort of mix and a slightly melancholy feel that adds something different (and something more contemporary than the Easy Star’s usual approach to reggae). The same can be said of the closing track ‘The Lady in My Life’. Meanwhile ‘Human Nature’ and ‘Pretty Young Thing’ handle their source material in a straightforward reggae style pleasantly enough. Not for the first time on Easy Star releases, the final dubs – ‘Dub It’ and ‘Close to Midnight’ – are amongst the best things here.
Additionally, a separate ‘Billy Jean’ EP release, available on download, includes the title track and ‘Human Nature’ plus three further Billy Jean remixes.
See reggaemusic.org.uk 15.3.09, 2.4.09, 3.7.10 for earlier Easy Star reviews
Easy Star’s Thrillah released August 2012 on Easy Star Records – CD, download and (with extra tracks) vinyl.