Category Archives: Music

The problem is that the “Torture” video was so hilarious that no one took the rest of it seriously…

Victory?  A surprisingly listenable album.  My Man Clif and I were talking about the Marlon Jackson opus, “Body” (“Girl, I want your body, you know I love your body; girl, I need your body, whywon’tyoucomehomewithmenow?!?!”) and the conversation led me to checking it out again.  Y’know, Victory has actually become something of a running joke in my circle because of the cheesiness we’ve always assigned it and, yes, compared to The Jacksons, Triumph, Destiny and, quietly, the criminally underrated Goin’ Places, it certainly is a disappointment (Jacksons apologist that I am, even I like to pretend 2300 Jackson Street didn’t exist.)  But I think its a mistake to completely dismiss the effort.

First of all, Victory represents a fascinating cultural snapshot of the Jackson family’s journey.  Released in 1984, the family’s fifth album on Epic represented the first time that Jermaine-who had remained at Motown when his four brothers, Jackie, Tito, Marlon and Michael-worked with the modern incarnation of the group.  Visually, there is something, well, victorious about seeing all six brothers, including Randy, on the cover.  And while it’s certainly no, “I’ll Be There”, there is something  aurally moving about hearing Michael and Jermaine sing together on “Torture.”  So, just for recreating that dynamic, I think the album is important.

Then there’s the fact that, three years before Bad and a year before “We Are The World,”  the 1984 release represents Michael Jackson’s first post-Thriller music.  Although Michael was always the biggest fish in the Jackson pond, this dynamic whereas he’s the most popular artist in the world who’s almost slumming with his brothers played out in a fascinating manner.  Besides “Torture,” Jackson sings lead on two other songs, “State of Shock” and “Be Not Always.”  The former is noteworthy only for the bizarre spectacle of Jackson and Mick Jagger mugging and growling through a faux rock opus that should have been called, “State of Shock: Can We Recreate ‘Beat It’ And Appeal To That Rock Audience?”  And, with its maudlin, over the top string arrangement and lyrics like, ” To have nothing, to dream something, then lose hoping. Is not life but lame?”, “Be Not Always” is embarrassing for all involved.  But, y’know, 1984 Michael Jackson; who’s going to tell him his songs suck?

And that’s the great irony of Victory.  The best songs on  the album are the ones Michael Jackson had nothing to do with.  My favorite, “One More Chance” a low key paean to that immortal theme of “I messed up but lemme fix it” displays a surprisingly vulnerable and expressive Randy on lead vocals and production and, while it’s not a great song, I’ve always found Randy’s “The Hurt” to work in a proto-electronica manner.  Not to be outdone by the littlest Jackson brother, “Wait” is witty and fun in that way that the eighties did best; all synthesizers and soda pop rhythm held together by Jackie’s authorial tenor. And, to go back to the reason I cracked the CD open in the first place, Marlon is killin’ it on “Body.”  You can’t tell that Negro a damn thing; he got swagger, he got sexuality, he wants that girl’s body and he wants her to come home with him now. 

Again, not a great album but even the forgettable joints like “We Can Change The World” are okay.  Like everyone else, I wish all six brothers would tour one last time and I’m a little frustrated with Michael not going along with it but, based on Victory, I don’t know if I would skip something that the other five did on their own.

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Anyone Who Had A Heart…

So, we’re in the kitchen the other day, listening to the little radio and Luther Vandross’ “Take You Out” come on.  Realizing that I’m humming along, I told Wendy that, of all of the shitty Luther songs that have come out in the last fifteen years (and God knows there’s been a bunch of them), this might be my favorite.  Y’know, I don’t like it, but I do find myself tapping my foot to the melody.  Well, being the ever supportive wife, she starts clowning me and accusing me of losing my taste in music.  According to her, I’m about to buy some smooth jazz and start wearing mustard colored mock turtlenecks.  Now, it was all fun and jokes but, I have to admit, I’m always on the lookout for my sense of aesthetics slipping away.

Because it happens to lots of people.  As much as I rail against how pop and disposable black music got in the eighties and want to blame suburban housewives for ruining my music, the ugly truth is that I don’t know how much the audience actually changed.  The same people who bought Patti Labelle’s 1977 album, Patti Labelle and correctly celebrated “Joy To Have Your Love” as one of the greatest R&B songs ever…bought the embarrassingly cheesy “New Attitude” from The Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack almost ten years later.  And I’ve always wondered, what happens to make you start liking bad music?  Are you just loyal to the artist or does something actually occur that makes you lose your taste?

Y’know, when Q-Tip’s solo debut, Amplified, came out in 1999, I had a real crisis trying to determine whether or not I really liked it because it was good or because it was Q-Tip or if, maybe, my senses were slipping.  The production was completely opposite from the warmer, more organic, jazz inflected work of A Tribe Called Quest, resembling the current, staccato, Swizz Beats type tracks that I hated but I liked it when he rhymed over it. I remember saying that I liked it for what it was and, even when I reviewed it, basically saying that Q-Tip could do no wrong  with me because, well, he’s Q-Tip.  But doesn’t that explain why someone would buy “A House Is Not A Home” and “Dance With My Father?” 

I still don’t know if it excuses bad music though.  Q-Tip’s second studio release, The Renaissance, is much more in the vein of his Tribe work and I like it more than the aforementioned debut and I acknowledge the difference.  The problem with the later work of artists who used to produce really good work is that their fans don’t really call them on it.  And it shouldn’t matter whether you can tap your foot to it or not.