Album: Michael Jackson, The Motown 50 Mixes (Motown)

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The Independent Culture

Planned well before Jackson's death, as part of Motown's 50th anniversary celebrations, The Motown 50 Mixes takes songs from the period when the most freakish thing about the singer was his talent, and picks apart the original arrangements, winnowing away many of the parts in order to focus attention more tightly on his vocals.

"I'll Be There", for instance, is reduced to only minimal bass and acoustic guitar, with the occasional smattering of vibes, leaving Jackson's yearning assurance almost painfully naked, while the slimmed-down "Ben" demonstrates how he was able to slip, almost mid-line, between crying and uplifting. But it's a process that works less well on uptempo band material: the thin guitar arrangement behind "I Want You Back" renders it more like a demo. Though Jackson's vocal is superbly modulated, his brothers are too nakedly exposed, their limitations sometimes painfully evident. Likewise for the follow-up "ABC", while "Got To Be There" is simply ruined. And even Jackson is upstaged on "Darling Dear" by James Jamerson's extraordinary bassline, which is a masterpiece of ornamentation every bit as outlandish as his work on The Four Tops's "Bernadette".

Download this: Ben, Never Can Say Goodbye, Darling Dear, I'll Be There