Michael Jackson

Gift guide

Box Sets

Michael Jackson

The Ultimate Collection (Epic/Sony)

In trying to appeal to both hit seekers and the fan that has everything, this 4-CD, 1-DVD overview of Michael Jackson's career is a compromise for both camps. While The Ultimate Collection is the first compilation to encompass Jackson's recorded output from both Motown and Epic, the pre-Thriller era gets short shrift. The Jackson 5 were the first act to have their first four singles top the U.S. pop chart, but the last of those – "The Love You Save" – is conspicuous in its absence. Nevertheless, you can't miss by starting with the one-two punch of "I Want You Back" and "ABC," both of which still sound as exciting as they did 35 years ago. Only die-hards will appreciate the two songs from the 1978 box office disaster The Wiz. More instructive is "Shake a Body," a demo version of "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)," the 1979 Jacksons hit that provided the template for Jackson's triumphant Off the Wall. After the demo, one of the brothers (not Michael) excitedly exclaims, "I want the Bee Gees to hear this shit!" Quincy Jones took that breathless, polyrhythmic dynamic even further with "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough." It would've been nice if "Working Day and Night" made the cut, but at least we get the Jacksons' solid but less-heralded "Lovely One" from 1980's Triumph. Instead of the Thriller version of "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)," a much different and less invigorating demo is used. After that, the box gets weighted down with post-Thriller filler. The Bad hits are good for a nostalgic romp (where's "Leave Me Alone"?), but by the time of 1992's Dangerous and 2001's Invincible, Jackson's immense talent was increasingly reduced to parroting Old Jack Swing instead of setting trends. The DVD of Jackson's 1992 Bucharest concert/revival is downright frightening in its constant cutaways to fevered audience members weeping and screaming. One can only hope that Jackson will eventually abandon the King of Pop freak show.

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