“Thrillah,” Easy Star All-Stars (Easy Star)
Easy Star All-Stars took an easier route for its new “Thrillah,” a reinterpretation of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and the act’s latest conversion of a classic album to reggae. Past ESAS projects included reggae tributes to Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon,” Radiohead’s “OK Computer” and The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” — all of which presented complications a dance-oriented album like “Thriller” doesn’t.
Still, ESAS doesn’t merely convert the original rhythms to a reggae lilt and call it a day. “Thrillah” is more heavy-handed in its approach, as demonstrated by its near-8-minute Afrobeat overhaul of “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” that serves as an inviting opening track.
The collective ESAS, which credits some 30 or so musicians and singers on “Thrillah,” respectfully spins the essence of Jackson’s 1982 ground-breaking release into another realm. It’s not all straightforward reggae, which would be dreadfully tedious, but the vibe is consistently hypnotic and generally laid back except for the strangely spastic funk cover of “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing).” Whether it’s the mellow bliss of “The Girl Is Mine” (featuring Mojo Morgan and Steel Pulse) or the improbably calming vocal of Michael Rose (Black Uhuru) on “Beat It,” “Thrillah” is a tribute to the gently persuasive power of reggae and dub music.
On the other hand, “Thrillah” is anchored in the inertia that typically dulls the appeal of the genre, with Luciano getting lost in limbo on ESAS’s version of “Billie Jean,” for example, and the act’s glossy take of the song “Thriller” proving to be too slow for even the walking dead.
Beyond that it’s hard to get past the fact the band is once again cashing in on someone else’s work, revamped or not.
Ultimately, “Thrillah” makes for amusing background music but provides no genuine thrills.
Rating (five possible): 3