Bad, by Michael Jackson
Suggested by Sarah Stevenson
Why is Michael Jackson’s album called Bad? Because he can’t spell ‘Terrible’.
I was told that joke almost thirty years ago, by a drunk man in a wet field. At the time, I too was a drunk man in a wet field, so I laughed appropriately. On reflection, it’s not a great gag. It doesn’t make sense at face value, it’s the gentlest humour possible, and, at the core, it’s hinging the punchline on the premise that the album is, in fact, rubbish.
Clearly, this is not the case.
Let’s look at the track list. There’s a total of eleven tracks, of which a whopping nine were released as singles. OF those nine, only two failed to make the UK Top 10. With statistics like that, it surprised me that only one of these singles reached the top spot, the largely underwhelming and schmaltzy I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.
Everyone knows these nine singles, surely? Let’s have a roll call. There’s Bad, Man in the Mirror, The Way You Make Me Feel, Dirty Diana, Another Part of Me, Smooth Criminal, Leave Me Alone, and Liberian Girl. Each one of these a worthy contender to be Song of the Year, never mind Song of the Album. Actually, that’s not strictly true… Liberian Girl feels like the one weak link in this chain, coming across as a depressing mix of Marvin Gaye’s Third World Girl and Aldous Snow’s African Child.
Full disclosure: Bad is “my” Michael Jackson album. I received the cassette for my fourteenth birthday, I believe as a last-ditch attempt to lure me from the Dark Side of Heavy Metal. While that didn’t work, I still enjoyed the album immensely. At the time, my favourite track was the titular Bad, which sported a kick-ass video of stylised urban youths running riot in a multi-story car park. With the benefit of, shall we say, situational hindsight, the video is rather problematic. More obviously, however, with the benefit of musical hindsight, the standout then and now is Smooth Criminal.
Bad represents a Michael Jackson at the pinnacle of his creative powers, to me at least. I’m happy to debate this, as I do think there’s a case to be made for pre-Bad stuff like Thriller and post-Bad stuff like Dangerous, but either way it’s safe to say that MJ had an indelible influence on Eighties music, both through song and pop video development. This album is prime Jackson, and I suspect your enjoyment will be down to your opinions on his musical output in general.
It’s more than fair to say that his songs are extremely Michael Jackson, a signature sound that’s apparent in both his song structure and his supremely mannered vocal delivery. Happily, the album avoids the self-indulgent twaddle that infects his later works. But, as you’d expect, each and every song is peppered with his usual vocal ticks, his “ughs” and “chyeahs” and “shamones”, so much so that you’d swear blind his personal pronouns were Hee / Hee. And there’s also the unpleasant question of his legacy, which, I’m sure you’ll appreciate, is unlikely to be answered successfully in a five-hundred word review.
Bad is a fine album, full of stone-cold classics. Judged on a purely musical scale, I can’t score it anything less than 8/10.