Bad. The least appropriately named album ever. Firstly because it is excellent and secondly because if we were to answer the question: 'Who’s bad?', as asked in the title track, then that answer wouldn’t be the pampered, damaged, genius freak-pansy who, with Quincy Jones, co-arranged this near-immaculate pop cornerstone that a lot of our childhoods were held up by. Michael Jackson was not 'bad' in the way he meant it here.
People love Michael Jackson for a few reasons, but it’s not really him that they love. It’s the spectacular entertainer, or the songwriter, or the staggering singing voice (his talking voice being staggeringly ridiculous), or the little kid with the afro on Soul Train with belt marks all across his back 'cos he missed a dance step in Denver the previous night. They don’t love him for having a pet monkey or an oxygen tent or plastic surgery or weird kid-related allegations or the bones of the Elephant Man or a bizarre friendship with Liz Taylor or having enough painkillers kicking about his mansion to kill a whoop of ketamine addicted gorillas… I mean, I could go on. We know the nuts had definitely taken over the fruitcake at the Neverland Ranch aaaaaages ago but essentially people love Michael for his music and his dancing in spite of these things. So the music and the dancing had better be pretty fucking good. And between 1969 and 1990 they almost uniformly were. Off The Wall may have the not-quite-disco-but-definitely-soul sound that eternally keeps it in fashion, Thriller may have the matched the sales of petrol and the groundbreaking media transition that pretty much amounted to a global cultural revolution, but Bad is so thoroughly arranged that you get the impression that every possible option was attempted; so brutally toured that it made international touring a part of that global revolution by playing one hundred and three concerts to an audience of 4.4 million people, trebling the previous world record. It is so mercilessly pop, yet creditably genre inclusive, that it is stunning. It was so aggressively marketed that it changed how people involved music in their lives - a massive amount of people taking Michael as the moonwalking messiah; a far larger amount listening to the album a thousand times where they would play any other record less than ten. As I've said, a revolution. And here you can see and hear all the factors that make up that revolution as they happened, in lavishly reissued form.
Disc One – Bad
From the ascending strikes that open ‘Bad’, through the incendiary start up and ridiculously fast synth bass runs of ‘Speed Demon’ and the sickeningly sappy but still somehow powerful ‘Man In The Mirror’, to the “I’m so harangued and famous” pleas of ‘Leave Me Alone’, this album is as perfect as it is daft. Let’s start with ‘Bad’ – the silly cartoon ‘street fight’ imaginings of a millionaire pop star who probably hadn’t set foot on an actual street in 15 years, set to a fittingly creeping bass line. It pleads with the listener to assess what actually makes up the urban criminal hierarchy; tries to get people to wake up and do right thing. ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’ stands the test of time as well as any ballad written, the duet with Stevie Wonder ‘Just Good Friends’… ‘Another Part Of Me’… they’re all brilliant. And daft. Don’t forget daft.
As I said, the well-chosen sound effects and instrumental passages add to the drama of each song so that they are delivered so fully formed that several are kind of miniature audio films in themselves. A lot of these songs could be seen as vague blueprints for fidgety bands like Everything Everything and Wave Machines and that lot. Yes, these sounds are almost all dated, but they are perfect for the record. Yes, lyrically it is really clunky in places (“Speed Demon/speeding on the highway/gotta get a limit”, I mean. What. Is. That?! Is there any way he actually had first hand experience of ‘Dirty Diana’? Again, it sounds like a child imagining a scenario) but when he deals with the more abstract side of relationships or more general social issues, it’s gold. Wide-eyed-ly innocent gold.
Disc Two – Outtakes, Demos & Curio
Right, on this disc there are two pointless non-English language versions of ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’, and some pointless, artless remixes made especially for this release. These are a selection of demos that have instrumental sections that are far too long. That is, until the penny drops that they’d deliberately left gaps for thinking time, and for Michael to spar and yelp with himself, and that these are, after all, demoes and are that long to help serve their purpose. The other thing with these demoes, is that you can hear that the ideas (musically, at least) arrived reasonably fully formed. Even if the lyrics are about villains of legend or something silly, the ideas are there. Seeds are there that might grow into totally different song. ‘Al Capone’ becoming ‘Smooth Criminal’, elements of ‘Street Walker’ being used for ‘Leave Me Alone’ and ‘Just Good Friends’ and it still standing up as a great song on its own. You can see how the album took shape from these sketches and how much work was done on them to make up Bad, despite them already being very good at this stage. And then there’s ‘Don’t Be Messin’ Round’, ‘I’m So Blue’, ‘Song Groove (A/K/A Abortion Papers)’and ‘Fly Away’, which would all have comfortably fit on any other Jackson album. But not this one. The production and arrangement bars were set too high on Bad.
Disc Three – Live At Wembley 1988 Audio
The sound is a little thin and the bound sound like they are playing too fast but the energy is tangible and exciting and… and… well, just see below…
Disc Four – Live At Wembley 1988 Film
What is brilliant (and rubbish) about this footage is that it is brought to you – even now - with all the crackle and glare and hiccups of VHS. In wonderful, wonky, slightly too vivid Technicolor. LCD screens with the Moonwalk logo open proceedings and you notice a silhouette at the bottom and you realise it’s MJ… and away we go. He already looks massively plastic-y, he looks awful actually, but he is onstage from the off. No vamping of a theme to house a big entrance or helicopters or explosions just a sheer force of energy aided by an enormous stylized interpretation of his feet and shins. Straight into ‘Wanna Be Startin' Somethin’ with a cartoon version of the blonde one from Bananarama on guitar and all the crotch grabbing you’d ever need to see. On the CD, this barnum all sounds ridiculously fast - like a mental four year old has gotten into the Halloween sweet stock for the whole street, but when you actually see what it is happening, the horse-bolting pace is totally justified. The energy of that mental four year old is shared by everyone on the stage and most people in the stadium and it works.
As it goes on though, weaknesses start to show. During the rubbish, indulgent instrumental ‘Bad Jam’ the drummer is clothed entirely in garments with the Pepsi logo on them and you realise the depths that the money spinning has reached. You also realise that without Michael’s actual presence and voice, the music is nothing and as he runs about warbling and shrieking like he’s on fire and primed with steroids, it’s just exhausting to even watch. Impressive as it is that the energy doesn’t let up, it really wears you down. And on very many levels at that. The cynical sponsorship knackers you as much as the mania of 72,000 loopy audience members (504,000 over seven nights at Wembley), or the wank-off session schtick of the band, or the dervish in the white suit at the centre of it all. By the time he climbs out of a bizarre bedouin tent-cum-portaloo to start ‘Man In The Mirror’ you’re really fucking glad that you’ve only got five minutes before you can take out your eyes and brain, put them into a vat of reinvigorating solution and pass out within this box set’s sumptuous folds.
9Didz Hammond's Score