Box sets don't come much weirder than Visionary, a set of 20 DualDiscs replicating 20 big hit singles from Michael Jackson. This project started out as a series of individual reissues of the singles in the U.K., with each of the 20 DualDiscs released on a weekly basis between February and June of 2006, then they were boxed up as Visionary for release in the U.K. in the summer, and then the set showed up in the U.S. in the fall of 2006 -- where it seemed to just pop up out of the blue, since there was very little knowledge about this reissue project in America. In the U.K., all but one of these singles charted in the Top 40 (the one that didn't, "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough," was not deemed eligible for the charts); if they had ever appeared in the U.S., they would have sank without a trace, since the American market simply doesn't purchase reissued singles like these (nor is it as singles-driven as the U.K. market, either). Yet the merits of the individual single reissues tend to fade away when faced with Visionary, which at its heart is no more than a curiosity for collectors -- obsessive collectors who have to have every piece of product associated with an artist, that is, since this doesn't have too much to offer serious fans. One of the major problems with this project is that the 20 singles seem to have been chosen nearly at random. Forget that this doesn't contain any of his solo singles for Motown -- there may be some great songs there, but they're certainly not part of his legacy as a superstar, which is what this attempts to chronicle -- but there are some really odd omissions from the years that Visionary does chronicle, meaning everything from 1979's Off the Wall. For instance, the title track from that album -- a Top Ten hit in the U.S. and U.K. -- isn't here. Nor is "She's Out of My Life," or "Human Nature," or "Wanna Be Startin' Something," or "The Girl Is Mine," or "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)," or "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" -- every one of them a huge hit, all part of Jackson's legacy, all songs that should be here.
The reason they're not here? They didn't have videos, so they wouldn't be able to fill up the DVD side of the DualDisc. Because of this, Visionary leans heavily on songs from the '90s, when Jackson was producing videos for every single, even those that didn't turn into genuine hits, like the title track to his 1997 remix collection, Blood on the Dance Floor. Half of this set is devoted to songs from either 1991's Dangerous or 1995's HIStory, and while there are a few good songs here, they don't make up for the absence of the big hits from Off the Wall and Thriller (although they do raise the question of why is there nothing from 2001's Invincible, a question that cannot be easily answered). Then, there's the matter of the discs themselves. Each is packaged as a miniature 7" single, replicating the original artwork -- which is terrific for the first half of the set, since those are the singles that were released as 7"s, but the '90s singles look odd when presented in this fashion, since the artwork was designed for CD singles. Nevertheless, the sleeves do look good here -- the reproductions are glossy and slick, with vivid colors -- and there's a certain amount of fun to be had flipping through the artwork and seeing the styles change over the years. The real problem with Visionary is that the bonus material on the DualDiscs just isn't that interesting or rare. The videos have been released many times before in various incarnations, and they're easier to watch on collections; it's a pain to put in a disc to see just one video. Then, the CD side doesn't have either an accurate representation of the original single or a thorough collection of the various B-sides: instead, it's an amalgam of remixes, sometimes containing original 12" mixes, sometimes containing latter-day remixes. Since many of Jackson's singles did not contain rare non-LP songs on the B-side -- often, it would be other album tracks as the B-side -- it's hard to pinpoint what exactly should be on a replica like these, so it comes down to two options: either accuracy or completeness, neither of which were followed in this case. Instead of offering real replicas, Visionary offers replicas of replicas -- and when this is combined with the significant absences from Jackson's discography, the set winds up feeling quite unsatisfying, no matter how splashy its appearance is.