Happy 35th Anniversary to The Jacksons’ fifteenth studio album Victory, originally released July 2, 1984.
In 1984, fresh off the unprecedented success of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, and with a world buzzing on The Jackson 5 reunion as a keystone moment of Motown’s televised retrospective performance Motown 25, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, the desire for a fully-fledged Jackson family reunion was at an all-time high.
Although The Jacksons (as they were known sans Jermaine and with the inclusion of brother Randy) hadn’t officially disbanded, Michael’s undeniable success as a solo artist threw the future of the group into question. So when news of the brothers returning to record their fifteenth studio album, and their first with all members of both The Jackson 5 and The Jacksons incarnations present, anticipation was primed.
Michael’s solo success aside, the preceding group efforts, 1978’s Destiny and 1980s Triumph, had shown artists coming into their own writing, producing and arranging both albums to mass commercial and critical success. And when you add in Michael’s landmark Off The Wall (1979) and Thriller albums into the mix, it would seem the hits would keep on coming and the band would grow from strength to strength.
At least, that’s what fans had hoped.
And to be fair, in part Victory is a celebration of each member’s growth as an artist, but the album ends up being less of a concerted and focused effort and more a sampling of six solo albums. Lacking the cohesiveness of Destiny and Triumph and without the main driving force of Michael at the helm, Victory would be pulled in different directions yielding different degrees of musical success. Each brother gets a moment in the spotlight, a moment to demonstrate his own musical gifts and take the mic, and all deliver good to great songs. But the fractions and factions were already afoot, and so the album suffers from feeling less like a true victory of family unity and more like a triumph of single-mindedness.
For his part Michael contributed two songs, the Top 5 rocker “State of Shock” that was initially recorded as a duet between Michael and Freddie Mercury but ended up being released with Mick Jagger sharing vocal duties, and the melancholic and terribly underappreciated socially focused, acoustic and sparse “Be Not Always.” He also duets with brother Jermaine on the album’s haunting paranoid R&B jam “Torture” and pops up with sublime adlibs on the coda of Jackie’s funky solo spot “Wait.” So for those wanting Thriller Part II, or at least Triumph Part II with an album that heavily featured Michael, they got 50% of their wish.
The remaining 50% was a brothers affair.
The aforementioned “Wait” sees Jackie step behind the mic and deliver a swinging synth led toe tapper and head bopper. It’s undoubtedly one of the album’s high points, one that takes flight when Michael swoops in for the final minute with some glorious adlibs. It should also be noted that Jackie wrote the other standout, second single “Torture,” and actually recorded lead vocals for it along with Michael. Once Jermaine decided to join the project, the brothers decided a Jermaine and Michael reunion was needed and so Jackie was relegated to lead on the chorus only. A shame really, as he has a very distinctive soulful quality to his voice that would have offered some nice contrast to Michael’s.
Randy’s contribution is the beautiful soothing ballad “One More Chance.” An accomplished musician and songwriter, Randy’s track is perhaps the one that has withstood the passing of time the best. It also has the distinguished pleasure of being the only Jackson song to be covered by another sibling, with sister Janet offering her take as a B-side to her “If” smash single nine years later.
Randy also sings lead on “The Hurt,” a track co-written by Michael, along with Toto cohorts David Paich and Steve Porcaro. This jittery synth inspired track is cool enough but fails to lift off as it seems to want to do. Definitely “One More Chance” is the stronger of his two outings.
Much, and unfairly, maligned Tito gets his moment to show his own musical stylings with a bluesy funk tune set against a Caribbean inspired groove. As well as being an underrated guitarist, Tito proves he also has some pretty soulful pipes on him too. With a glistening summery vibe, “We Can Change The World” is another unexpected highlight on the album. You go, Tito.
Those wanting a Thriller-esque dance song would have been perhaps disappointed with Michael’s efforts, but would have found some comfort and a healthy helping of familiarity in Marlon’s “Body.” Borrowing heavily from the groove of Michael’s timeless “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin,’” that’s sadly where the comparisons end. The song is the most ‘80s sounding track on the album, and instantly conjures images of leg warmers and Fluro. As a moment not built to last, the song fails to have any real impact. The most interesting moments are the all too brief world music soundscape intro and outro. You can’t help but wish these elements were placed on a loop to create a new song, and “Body” given the boot.
All in all, Victory isn’t a bad album, it’s just not the album we hoped for. With each brother branching out in their own musical stylings and having something valid to offer, maybe this approach was inevitable. When you listen to each song in isolation, you’d have to agree most are pretty catchy and worthy of an airing. But when packaged together, they just don’t gel as well as they should.
Whilst the album was a solid seller and chart performer, it failed to really light up the world, perhaps overshadowed by two other albums released around the same time: Prince’s Purple Rain and Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A., both seminal albums from each. Add to this the curious fact that the Jacksons’ tour of the same name failed to include any songs from the album (that’s right, no “State of Shock” and no “Torture”) and it’s easy to see why it’s often overlooked in both Michael’s and The Jackson 5/Jacksons canon.
Other notable curiosities surrounding this project include:
The original album artwork featured a white dove on Randy’s shoulder. It flew away on subsequent pressings.
The lead single, the Jackson-Jagger (or is that Mike & Mick) “State of Shock” featured no music video, and follow-up single “Torture” did get a video albeit without a living, breathing Michael. Instead a wax figure of Michael appears at the end, armed raised. No wax figure of Jermaine was used, and many didn’t notice his absence.
Of the remaining songs from the album, “Body” gets a single release and video??? Go figure. (Neither Michael nor Jermaine appear in this one either. Even the wax figure skipped this one too.)
As an interesting aside, I eagerly bought this album on the day of release and instinctively kicked it off with “State of Shock” playing as the opener and progressing through that side to “Body” then flipping it over for “Torture” through to “Be Not Always,” which felt like a bold and fitting album closer. I played the album that way for months. It wasn’t until much later when I bought the CD version, that I was shocked to discover I had been playing the album in the wrong order, playing the second side before the first. Listening to the album as it was intended, I still felt (and do to this day) that my mistaken sequencing is the stronger.