Michael Jackson Striving For Perfect Comeback Disc, Producer Says

Pop king's first all-original album since 1992 expected by end of year.

Michael Jackson, whose 1982 blockbuster Thriller is one of the best-selling albums of all time, is trying to come back from a long absence with an album that will evoke the lean, danceable pop-R&B of his prime, according to producers who've worked on the project.

"We think we've got the next Thriller," former Jodeci member DeVante said. DeVante worked on several possible tracks for the new disc with Jackson.

Producer Rodney Jerkins, who's been working on the album for more than two years, said the pop icon is painstakingly assembling the project. "It's a big process when you're striving for perfection, trying to make the best record in the world," he said. "It's not one, two, three with Michael."

Jackson has compiled a huge collection of possible tracks for the LP, according to DeVante (born Donald DeGrate). "He has, like, 10,000 songs," he said.

The finished product will be released before the end of the year, Jerkins said. "If you love [1979's] Off the Wall, if you love Thriller, you'll love this one," he said. "I'm just trying to take it back to where it was."

After Off the Wall established the former child star as a major solo artist, with the #1 singles "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Rock With You," Thriller turned him into the world's pre-eminent pop star. It spawned seven top-10 singles, including "Billie Jean" (RealAudio excerpt), and throughout the past two decades has sold 25 million copies in the U.S., making it the second-best-selling album ever — behind the Eagles' Their Greatest Hits 1971–1975, which recently was certified 26 times platinum.

Jerkins, 22, who wrote and produced Brandy and Monica's hit duet "The Boy Is Mine" (RealAudio excerpt) and has worked with Whitney Houston and Toni Braxton, said he was impressed by Jackson's skill in the studio, calling the singer "a genius."

"He's really everything I thought ... he's on a whole 'nother level than everyone else," Jerkins said. "Most people I work with, I gotta give a lot of direction to. But he's the only one who knows exactly what needs to be done. When I'm thinking about something, he'll do it before I can spit it out."

Jackson's publicist and his production company did not return calls for comment on the album.

In recent years, controversies surrounding Jackson's personal life and career often have overshadowed his music. He has not released a full-length album of new music since 1992's Dangerous, which featured the hit "Black or White" (RealAudio excerpt). In 1994, the singer reached a $20 million out-of-court settlement with a young boy who alleged that Jackson molested him, though the singer has continued to maintain his innocence.

The next year, Jackson was accused of anti-Semitism after he used the lines "Jew me, sue me" and "Kick me, kike me," in "They Don't Care About Us" (RealAudio excerpt), a then-new song recorded for his compilation album HIStory. He apologized and re-recorded the track without the offending words.

Record retailers said despite Jackson's troubles, his next album could be a major hit.

"His fans still like him despite all that," said Jennifer Sitgo, a buyer at a Las Vegas Tower Records. "His catalog still sells really well."

Retailers expressed doubt that Jackson could return to the heights of mega-stardom he enjoyed in the '80s, however. "It would do OK, but it wouldn't sell like he used to," Kobi Raskin, rock buyer for a Denver Tower Records, said.

Jackson began his career as a child prodigy on Motown Records with the Jackson 5, singing lead on such classic hits as "I Want You Back" (). Though Jackson released solo albums early on, his solo career began in earnest with the disco-influenced Off the Wall.

(Staff Writer Teri vanHorn and Contributing Editor Corey Moss contributed to this report.)