Michael Jackson’s ‘Off the Wall’

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Jackson, once the prince of Bubblegum Soul, isn’t a kid anymore. His growth as a singer, though, is incomplete. To some degree he’s still singing the way he did as an 11-year-old. His voice is no longer siren-pitched but it isn’t full-bodied or strong and suffers, on ballads, from too much vibrato.

The adolescent frailties that linger in Jackson’s voice are nagging enough to, if uncontrolled, undermine good material and production. Thanks to producer Quincy Jones, that didn’t happen here. The result is one of the year’s best R&B albums.

This is Jackson’s first collaboration with Jones, who handled him better than any previous producer. Jones didn’t steer Jackson in any new directions but with superb material and imaginative production has camouflaged or shrewdly used Jackson’s vocal weakness. “She’s Out of My Life” -- a teary, touching ballad about the end of a romance-- is produced and arranged so that Jackson’s quivery and rather underpowered voice is an asset because it enhances the anguished tone.

There are countless other places on the album where Jackson gets vital support from the production.

Jackson, when free of the various group limitations, has a style, that though somewhat flawed, is distinctive and appealing. Is it possible that he’s outgrown the Jacksons? With a boost from the Top Five single, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” this is the biggest selling album-- solo or group-- in the family’s history. It’s obvious Jackson can do quite well alone.