Music Review: Michael Jackson - Off the Wall (CD/DVD Reissue)

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The 1979 adult solo debut of Michael Jackson, Off the Wall, has been repackaged and reissued with a feature-length Spike Lee documentary, Michael Jackson's Journey From Motown to Off the Wall. Perhaps someone could've thought up a catchier (and more compact) title for the doc, but at any rate this excellent film is the reason to get the package. To my knowledge, Off the Wall has not been remastered for this reissue and, incredibly, the bonus audio from the previous CD reissue (two home demos and several audio interview clips) is MIA. The original cover art, however, has been restored (more on the packaging later).

The album is a true classic, beyond reproach, and there's little left to say about it. It remains a robust survivor of the disco era and its ten tracks are classics. Jackson fans most certainly already own some configuration of <i>Off the Wall</i>, so all we're left with is an unwieldy new package. It's Lee's documentary, tracing Jackson's career from its earliest days right up to the close of the '70s, that's a must-have. Though he can be heard off camera a few times, Lee remains unseen. The story is told via a series of new and vintage interviews, plus lots of great '70s concert footage that'll leave you longing for more. 
off the wall reissue cover (380x380).jpg Of the many interview subjects, it's interesting to note who we hear from and who we don't. It's great to see Stevie Wonder, who checks in to discuss his songwriting contribution, "I Can't Help It." Of the Jackson siblings, only Marlon and Jackie sit for new footage. Their comments are actually of little interest. Some of Lee's subjects have questionable connection to Jackson (or the music industry in general), including basketball great Kobe Bryant. Lee made a documentary about Bryant (Kobe Doin' Work) and is a well-known basketball enthusiast, so I guess that explains his inclusion here. But hearing Bryant say that he wouldn't play basketball the way he does, were it not for Michael Jackson's dancing serves little purpose.

The narrative flows along smoothly, with the vintage onstage material shining most brightly. The track-by-track discussion of the album is a series of highlights. As celebratory as From Motown to Off the Wall is, there's an overriding sense of sadness since the artist behind the music isn't here to discuss it himself. There isn't likely to be much new info here for the hardest core fans, but it the film is consistently enjoyable.

About the packaging.. Someone thought it would be a good idea to include a piece of chalk to be used on the inner gatefold sleeve. The sleeve's brick background is textured in order to function as a slate. Why on earth anyone would want to do this is beyond me. The discs themselves are in the gatefold digipak (the DVD is inside a sleeve at least, but the CD is just sitting there, open to the elements and primed slide out at any time). Should you choose to write on the "wall," expect a lot of annoying dust to possibly get on your discs.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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