Like any an aging child star, Michael Jackson has had to grow up gracefully in public in order to survive.
Until now, he's understandably clung to the remnants of his original Peter Pan of Motown image while cautiously considering the role of the young prince. Off the Will marks Jackson's first decisive step toward a mature show-business personality, and except for some so-so material, it's a complete success.
A slick, sophisticated R&B-pop showcase with a definite disco slant, Off the Wall presents Michael Jackson as the Stevie Wonder of the Eighties. This resemblance is strongest on "I Can't Help It" (cowritten by Wonder), in which Jackson's vocal syncopation is reminiscent of the master's breathless, dreamy stutter.
Throughout, Jackson's feathery-timbred tenor is extraordinarily beautiful. It slides smoothly into a startling falsetto that's used very daringly. The singer's ultradramatic phrasing, which rakes huge emotional risks and wins every time, wrings the last drop of pathos from Tom Bahler's tear-jerker, "She's Out of My Life." "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough" (written and coproduced by Jackson) is one of a handful of recent disco releases that works both as a dance track and as an aural extravaganza comparable to Earth, Wind and Fire's "Boogie Wonderland." The rest of the dance music touches several grooves, from jazzy South American to mainstream pop funk.
A triumph for producer Quincy Jones as well as for Michael Jackson, Off the Wall represents discofied post-Motown glamour at its classiest.