Michael Jackson made a terrific album, Off the Wall (Epic), that spawned four hit singles and became one of the season's staples in the top 10. He coincidentally provided some counterpoint to Pink Floyd: as the upbeat title tune put it, "Life ain't so bad at all/If you live it off the wall."

Though he has been sealed up in the bubble of show business for over a decade, ever since the Jackson Five's "I Want You Back" made him a celebrity at age 10, Michael Jackson is scarcely cursing his fate in his latest album. He is too busy enjoying his role. He sings with the abandon of a man who feels alive only on stage. He is unabashed about wishing to entertain, perhaps because he knows that it is the one thing he is exceptionally good at. (This, despite Roger Waters, is not a skill that requires an apology.)

Over the years, Jackson's voice has deepened without losing its boyish energy. He phrases with delicacy, sings ballads with a feather touch. But his forte remains timing. On the dance tracks, he bobs with the beat, using his voice as an effortless counterweight. And as Off the Wall repeatedly proves, on songs like "Rock With You" and "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough," there has not been a finer falsetto in black music since Smokey Robinson in his prime.

By Jim Miller