Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Michael Jackson: The Ultimate Collection [Epic/Legacy, 2004]
This well-selected, rarity-studded phantasmagoria of great hits, alternate takes, soundtrack oddities, previously unreleaseds, demos, and remixes traces an arc not merely of promise fulfilled and outlived, but of something approaching tragedy: a phenomenally ebullient child star tops himself like none before, only to transmute audibly into a lost weirdo. Until his fourth solo album as an adult, Dangerous, Jackson's immense originality, adaptability, and ambition generate genius beats, hooks, arrangements, and vocals (though not lyrics). This is no less true of 1970's "ABC" than of 1979's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" or 1991's "Black and White." While inventing sounds never heard before, Jackson changes with the times, from top 40 to disco to studio funk to new jack swing. This wondrous stuff will stand forever as a reproach to the puritanical notion that pop music is slick or shallow and that's the end of it. But as his troubling life gets away from him in the '90s, so does his music. The fourth disc wisely downplays his intermittent belief that the next step in his progress was Celine Dion, and two tracks from 2001's underrated Invincible prove that he hasn't lost his unnatural sense of rhythm. But theme statements like R. Kelly's endless "You Are Not Alone" and Free Willy 2's regrettable "Childhood" are quietly yucky, and the four new songs are bland, forced, or both. The big finale opposes war. [Blender: 3]
"Shake a Body," "Monkey Business," "Sunset Drive" Choice Cuts