The album picks up where Dancin Machine left off but boldly continues that in that musical direction. While Get It Together and Dancin Machine took tentative steps toward dance music while retaining the J5 bubblegum sound, Moving Violation is unapologetic as it ventures deep into funk and dance grooves, finally abandoning the group’s bubblegum sound.
This might have been a risky move at the time but I feel it was necessary. The group’s young fans were growing up right along with them. They couldn’t sing ABC and I Want You Back forever. I mean literally. Michael couldn’t. With his voice maturing, the music had to follow suit.
On a similar note, you hear the change in Michael's voice begin on Get It Together and Dancin' Machine, but there were still hints of “baby Michael,” though the high notes were becoming reduced as he lost his range.
By the time this album was recorded, there was no more “baby” in Michael's voice, and it only makes sense that there shouldn't be any more “baby” in the music either.
Ease On Down The Road
The most interesting thing about the album is witnessing puberty’s effect on Michael’s voice. This album is a clear preview of what his voice would sound like as an adult.
Many male child singers suddenly sound different when their voices drop. Tevin Campbell, Jason Weaver, Taylor Hanson (Remember Hanson?) Frankie Lymon, etc. All of their singing careers basically came to a stop when they lost their boyish range. A boy's voice breaks and cracks as it changes, giving way to a whole new range. They basically have to learn how to sing all over again.
Michael’s voice changed like anyone else’s, but Motown handled the situation scientifically.
To ease the transition, the Motown producers had MJ sing at the top of his range as his voice was breaking. This is why you hear his voice gradually slide from his child voice to a more mature one over the course of three albums, rather than all of a sudden sounding like a different person.
If you watch the group’s live performances from this time period, you’ll see that the musicians dropped the key of the trademark J5 hits. Michael was also creative about losing his range. Rather than even risk the high notes, Michael would growl, hiccup, shout, squeal and do other antics. As an adult, he put these vocal ticks on his solo albums.
Aside from a few growls on Honey Love, there's none of that on this album. Even the falsetto cry Michael introduced us to on the Off The Wall album hadn’t been developed yet. This was Michael singing naturally; raw and from the soul.
Even though the “little Michael” high notes were now a thing of the past, I think it was clear here that Michael was still very much a great singer, and his voice change didn’t automatically doom the group.
Jermaine was already gone by the time this album was released. This is one of the group's first performances without him. Listen also to how Michael adapts to his changing voice. You can tell Off The Wall and Thriller were around the corner.
All I Do Is Think Of You is the most popular track on this album, likely renewed by Troop covering the song in 1989. The song is the Jackson 5’s first attempt at a quiet storm ballad, and Michael’s soaring man-child tenor is amazing.
Even though the Jacksons reportedly were not happy with the material presented here, you can't tell at all by the way Michael sung it. This album features some of his best and overlooked vocal performances to date.
There are only two ballads on this album (the previously mentioned All I Do, and Forever Came Today). The album's focus obviously was on rhythm and grooves. Among the uptempo cuts, the highlights for me are the title track, You Were Made (Especially For Me) Honey Love, Body Language, and Breezy. Most of these songs were made for the club or the radio.
The funk on this album is what set the stage for future Jacksons releases, particularly Destiny and Michael’s Off The Wall.
Even though Michael and his brothers were not allowed to write and produce their own material here, the music on Moving Violation foreshadows many upcoming moments in Michael's career. In just a few years he would play the Scarecrow in The Wiz and perform songs like You Can't Win and Ease On Down The Road. The two songs have a similar pop/funk sound like the tracks on this album. Then came Destiny, which set the stage for Off The Wall, and the rest is easy. But the genesis of all of that great work came from this album.
Due to it’s bold new sound and consistency with the songs, this is, in my opinion, the Jackson 5’s best album.