“Billie Jean” by Robbie Fulks


Happy, Robbie Fulks’s album of Michael Jackson covers, had been in the can for almost a decade by the time he released it this spring—previously, in 2004, he’d canceled a planned release because another round of child-molestation accusations had surfaced. The collection takes a dizzying variety of approaches to Jackson’s songs, including bluegrass, power pop, blues-rock, and country. “Privacy,” with outre guest vocals from Azita Youssefi, stitches together several styles, colliding dark psychodrama with “Monster Mash” ghoulishness. But the best cut is “Billie Jean,” which Fulks gives the singer-songwriter treatment, underlining the creepiness of the lyrics and giving them an emotional wallop. The performance rises and falls like good theater, with Fulks’s tone alternating between defensive and defeated, and despite the bare-bones acoustic arrangement the song’s chorus is still gorgeous and irresistible.