Six Degrees of Off the Wall
It used to be easier to pretend that an album was its own perfectly self-contained artifact. The great records certainly feel that way. But albums are more permeable than solid, their motivations, executions and inspirations informed by, and often stolen from, their peers and forbearers. It all sounds awfully formal, but it's not. It's the very nature of music — of art, even. The Six Degrees features examine the relationships between classic records and five other albums we've deemed related in some way. In some cases these connections are obvious, in others they are tenuous. But, most important to you, all of the records are highly, highly recommended.
A former teen idol who shot to fame fronting a slick, super-professional five-piece boy band hires savvy producers to help him realize his vision of himself as a credible solo artist that still sells to the girls who loved him when. This was Justin Timberlake in 2002, when he made his break with *NSync, and as Michael Jackson had in 1979, Justin hired an arsenal of proven hitmakers; this time, it was... Timbaland and the Neptunes, who split the tracks, and went to town on a handful of the spriest grooves we saw in the decade's first half. "Rock Your Body" has a title and groove both similar to Michael Jackson's "Rock with You," but Timberlake comes on more like Michael's great rival Prince, winking, "Bet I'll have you naked by the end of this song." He led one of the funniest call-and-responses pop radio saw all decade in "Seorita." He made "Cry Me a River" into prime pop psychodrama. And just to prove he still loved the kids, he included this line on "Nothin' Else": "You're out of this world/Except you're not green."more »
Michael Jackson was an omnivorous student of soul singing, but one vocalist who left a bigger mark on him than many is Jackie Wilson. Listen to those big, strident, soaring high notes on "Baby Workout," or the way he wrings all the excitement he can which turns out to be a tremendous amount out of "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher," one of the most joyously surging records ever cut.... Of course, by taking on the compositions of a young Detroiter named Berry Gordy Jr., Wilson made Jackson's career possible in far more tangible ways as well. But beyond helping midwife the Motown sound, Wilson's unabashed mix of hardcore R&B with pop standards such as "Danny Boy" and working with the likes of Count Basie's big band (here represented by a tremendous remake of the Impressions' "For Your Precious Love") presaged the way Jackson would aggressively pursue crossover from R&B to other forms of music.more »
The Cult Classic
The Scandinavians have a very holistic attitude toward what constitutes "disco," and Hans-Peter Lindstrm especially so. Take "Limitations," from his defining 2006 album It's a Feedelity Affair the plucked guitar, coolly strutting beat, and alert bass call to mind long shots of warehouses being staked out by bickering cops in 1984-vintage buddy cop movies. Even so, most everything on Feedelity harks back to that time frame with a sense that there's still... a lot left to discover and if it's sometimes kind of kitschy, that's even better. Exhibitin A: the song titled "There's a Drink in My Bedroom and I Need a Hot Lady" that goes for nearly 11 minutes. But Lindstrm's grooves don't kid around, be it the grunting bass of "Cane It for the Original Whities" or floating synths and gently insistent snare snap of "I Feel Space," whose spooky qualities were presaged by the opening of Jackson's "Off the Wall" all that time back.more »