'Bad' Is Back and It's Just as Good
Check out the re-release of an album that extended Michael Jackson's über-stardom beyond Thriller.
Bad Meaning Good
In 1987 the deeper meaning of some of those songs eluded me (no one seemed to know who Annie was in the chorus of "Smooth Criminal" or why wouldn't she be OK) and I don't remember ever being convinced back then that Jackson was truly "bad" or the thug he claimed to be in his art. But we were all willing to play along because of the supreme brilliance of his song and dance, because of the outsize reach of his cinematic imagination and because he'd managed to somehow synthesize the seamy underbelly of tabloid culture and spit it back out to us as arresting musical entertainment.
It's a shame the same fodder that kept Jackson a tabloid fixture gave critics ample reasons not to focus on the music. The reason Bad remains a classic album today is the pre-eminent quality of the music itself. Mixing gutbucket funk, phenomenal hook appeal and high-level musicianship, Bad's 11 songs remain a marvel. They're detail-obsessed; impeccably performed, produced and engineered; and full of winning idiosyncrasy.
There's Jimmy Smith's jazzy Hammond solo on "Bad." There's the trademark Jackson vocal ticks and the introduction of his "shamon" affectation. There's the tenderness of the Afrocentric quiet-storm ballad "Liberian Girl." There's the jazzy Temptations-like shuffle rhythm of toe-tapper "The Way You Make Me Feel."
And the album's centerpiece, the inspirational power anthem "Man in the Mirror," is a brilliant distillation of Oprah-influenced 1980s pop psychology and self-transformation ideals. Jackson was the album's co-producer and the songwriter on nine of the 11 tracks, and his genius -- especially his ability to move between various emotions and moods and to fuse R&B, funk, soul, rock and musical theater, among other genres -- is on full display.
Bad is spectacular entertainment, conceptualized for your TV or the concert stage -- the music is, in many ways, inseparable from the videos and live-concert performances -- as much as it was designed in 1987 for your turntable or Walkman. In the end, Bad did the trick of extending Jackson's superstardom and further mythologizing him. No matter what your thoughts on the album might be, even after his death, Michael Jackson has managed to leave us here, 25 years after the fact, still talking about his art. Now, that is truly bad.
25 Amazing Facts From Michael Jackson's 'Bad'
From the Prince duet that never was to the Pitbull remix, we recall the album 25 years later.