Album Review: Easy Star All Stars’ Easy Star’s Thrillah

Easy Star All Stars

Easy Star’s Thrillah

Easy Star Records

Release Date: August 28, 2012

 

Track Listing

1.     Wanna Be Startin’ Something (featuring JoWill and Ruff Scott)

2.     Baby Be Mine (featuring The Green)

3.     The Girl Is Mine (featuring Mojo Morgan and Steel Pulse)

4.     Thriller (featuring Mikey General and Spragga Benz)

5.     Beat It (featuring Michael Rose)

6.     Billie Jean (featuring Luciano)

7.     Human Nature (featuring Cas Haley)

8.     P.Y.T. (featuring Kirsty Rock)

9.     The Lady In My Life (featuring Christopher Martin)

10.  Dub It

11.  Close to Midnight

 

Personnel

Michael Goldwasser – producer/guitar/arranger

Elenna Canlas – keyboards

Yossi Fine – bass

Joe Tomino – drums

Victor “Ticklah” Axelrod

Shelton Garner, Jr.

Buford O’Sullivan

Jenny Hill

Ivan Katz

Kirsty Rock

Ruff Scott

Joanne Williams

Andy Farag – percussion

Funk’n’stein – horns

 

Conceived and formed by formed by Michael Goldwasser, Eric Smith, Lem Oppenheimer and Remy Gerstein in 1997, the Easy Star All Stars were originally a reggae studio band/collective consisting of a rotation cast of musicians and vocalists for their own label, Easy Star Records. And although they’ve backed a number of artists, produced original reggae, the collective has been best known for their series of reggae-based covers of popular and beloved albums, starting with their cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Dub Side of the Moon, released back in 2003. Dub Side was followed by their cover of Radiohead’s OK Computer, Radiodread in 2006, and their cover of the BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band in 2009. In between some of those cover albums the band released some original material, including 2011’s First Light.

   Certainly, the release of the impressive Dub Side of the Moon put the Easy Star All Stars on the map as it was among the first of a series of releases by bands jumping across genres to cover material on albums – for example, Soulive’s Beatles catalog spanning, Rubber Soulive, and Yellow Dubmarine’s Abbey Dub, Beatallica’s Sgt. Hetfield’s Motorbreath Pub Band – that have dropped in the past decade. As a result, the Easy Star All Stars have played on six continents and over 30 countries. If you consider the state of the contemporary music industry, that level of success, whether through word-of-mouth, luck, or pure moxie, is impressive and sadly increasingly rare. But instead of contentedly sitting on their laurels, the Easy Star All Stars founding trio of producer/guitarist/arranger Michael Goldwasser along with his partners and record label co-founders Eric Smith and Lem Oppenheimer began the process of picking their next tribute album after the release of Lonely Hearts Dub Band, and although they went through a ton of albums both big and small, they album that called their attention was one of the biggest selling albums of all time and the album that literally defined the 1980s, Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

   Don’t get me wrong here folks, Thriller has some of the biggest and most beloved pop songs of the last 40 years, and the album’s influence has reverberated through contemporary music in unusual ways. After all, there was a point where everyone just universally dug Michael Jackson – no matter what you were into or where you from, you were trying to Moonwalk and you were singing along to “Billie Jean,” and “Beat It.” Not only does Thriller sadly mark the point when Jackson started to get progressively bizarre, it marked the point where Jackson became this androgynous, emasculated, asexual being and perhaps even worse, marked (in retrospect) his eventual decline. Sure, Bad sold a shitload of albums but it didn’t sell as much as Thriller. And Dangerous didn’t sell as much as Bad or Thriller. But somehow as the years go by, and despite the album’s overwhelming popularity, Thriller has a level of inescapable schmaltziness to me. Sadly, Jackson’s best album in my mind, Off the Wall is increasingly being forgotten by the masses. This is despite the fact that Jackson’s performance on that album is the most compelling because he sounds like an adult, sexual being. But, how could it not be forgotten, since we’ve all heard Thriller’s most popular songs about 10,000,000,000,000 times since 1982?

   Of course, when it comes to covering a momentous album like Thriller, there are two questions to immediately ask. The first question that should come to mind is: is it necessary? The second question that should come to mind is: is there anything new that the artist brings to such time-worn material? And in the case of Easy Star’s Thrillah, Goldwasser’s arrangement brings some new life to the ballads that most people have forgotten. Easy Star’s renditions of “The Lady of My Life,” “Baby Be Mine,” and “The Girl is Mine,” bring out the inherently sweet, old-fashioned tenderness of the songs. Easy Star turns them back into the songs you’d play for the special someone – that someone you hope to spend the rest of your life with. On their rendition of “P.Y.T.,” they add a coquettish sexiness to the proceedings,  and with a female vocalist, it turns the song on its head quite a bit – the PYT of the song easily being a fine gentleman, who the singer wants to love. For the songs we’ve all heard throughout our lives “Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” “Thriller,” “Billie Jean,” “Human Nature,” the melodies are still recognizable although the instrumentation has changed here and there, the tempos have been slowed down, the riddims pulled and teased out a bit – but the Easy Star renditions feel a bit too straightforward, too reverent to the source to make it their own, and that’s a shame because it’s makes the album more of a reggae-influenced cover album, instead of offering a new interpretation. Plus, in all honesty, there isn’t much of a stretch to imagine the great R&B and pop record like Thriller being done in the dub/reggae style. Still they do so with a smiling, summery charm that will win you over. It ain’t a revolutionary reclamation of familiar material but it sure is fun, and sometimes we need a little fun.  

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