Michael Jackson: Bad
John McCready, NME, 12 September 1987
Michael Jackson doesn't live in the real world. I read my Sun and Star every day. I know that the boy from Gary, Indiana is mad, not Bad.
He bathes in Perrier water and wants to build his own Buck House. He asked David Hockney to paint Diana Ross' face on the bottom of his swimming pool and he hopes to live until he's 150. All these things are true.
Such stories, created by an unholy alliance of Encino aides with a strange sense of loyalty but an innate understanding of the star system and a new dynasty of overpaid showbiz snoopers help convince a pop audience for whom music is never enough, that Michael Jackson and the real world of alarm clocks and signing on days, dirty socks and chip butties do not belong together.
But just lately, even John Blake has been getting fed up with the endless parade of paragraphs about oxygen chambers and surgical face masks. The Boy In The Bubble routine is beginning to bore. These days, Michael Jackson is more likely to be portrayed as a regular plastic surgery patient who likes a laugh and a ride on a llama as much as the next man. Maybe one day soon we'll get to the truth – that Michael Jackson is simply an international star who likes nothing better than to leave five year gaps between records which, after the in store displays and the Pavlovian euologies, amount to nothing more or less than brilliant pop music.
Just as the singer and his manager Frank M Dileo have planned,(both are pictured on the inner sleeve of the record captioned as Another Great Team – you'll find producer Quincy Jones heading the small print), the public shadow of Michael Jackson will make sure that what goes around on your turntable is of minor importance in this story. The Fred Astaire of the video age could almost get away with recording an LP full of Jesus And Mary Chain songs. It's startling then that, surrounded by the fuss and cornered by the pressure of expectation, Michael Jackson's Bad is still worth your time and trouble.
Since 1979 and the hit-littered Off The Wall LP, Jackson, together with Quincy Jones, has been fine-tuning the BMW of world pop music. Even the 1980 Jacksons LP Triumph, co-produced with keyboard player Greg Phillinganes doing his best Quincy impression, became part of this exclusive series. After Thriller and now with Bad nothing has really changed.
Like BMW, this company subscribes to the 'don't fix-what-isn't-broken' theory. Thus Bad will provide you with few surprises. 'Just Good Friends', a song shared with Stevie Wonder, replaces 'Thriller's saccharin diversion 'The Girl Is Mine'. Those who enjoyed Eddie Van Halen's guitar solo on 'Beat It' can hear it slowed down and stretched on 'Dirty Diana', the only serious misjudgement. And, as we've come to expect, the kitchen sink is never far away. This time Vincent Price has been left in the crypt. But there's Michael's heartbeat, car noises on the busily frivolous 'Speed Demon' and massed chairs of Winans for 'Man In The Mirror', a luxurious gospel written by Seidah Garrett and Glen Ballard.
Trace back to an interview of 1982 where Michael talked about making music "for today's sound and market", and you'll find the logic behind the opening Bad-rhythmic tough talk with M.J. as a sugar-coated rapper acknowledging black music's' New Generation and getting aggressive – "your butt is mine" – without producing a single bead of sweat.
'The Way You Make me Feel' is the kind of seamless pop The Company can make in its sleep. At this point you begin to wonder if Bad has been put together by feeding the previous records into a computer. 'Speed Demon' crashes through the theory as sequencers race around the speakers. Lyrically, Michael plays the familiar paranoid he first became on 'This Place Hotel' – "Look in the view mirror/Is he hot on my tracks?"
'Speed Demon', like almost any Michael Jackson track, proves that, when it comes to wringing every last ounce of rhythm, breath and meaning from a song, there are few who can touch him. 'Liberian Girl' is simply beautiful and, together with 'I Just Can't Stop Loving You', reminds us that Jackson is only just beginning to explore his talent as a songwriter.
Side two's opening 'Another Part Of Me' is where Michael remembers he can dance. Less concerned with radio play and album sales, it's a wave to that part of the audience more concerned with beats than superstar duets. It's a pity The Company weren't thinking along similar lines during 'Dirty Diana', another worldly fable which, like 'Billie Jean', puts paid to the idea that Michael Jackson is a sexless child. The closing 'Smooth Criminal' is a testimony to the talents of the producer. A ropey murder story which sounds as though it was written inside five minutes is given the Tommy Cooper treatment. With some fireworks and a big helping of techno-aggression, 'Smooth Criminal' becomes a song – just like that. The rest is silence and endless conjecture.
Bad is a triumph of musical conservation for a 29-year-old boy still trapped in Off The Wall's disco inferno. If you don't think about the fact that it took the best part of five years to put together then Bad is a good record. And if you don't believe all you read, then that's all you can reasonably expect. Michael Jackson isn't God.
© John McCready, 1987
Citation (Harvard format)
links coming soon