Michael Jackson - Bad - Review
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critics' view

A multi-million-unit-shifter, Bad was (and remains) as important to 1980s pop culture as the rise of the Walkman, the Back to the Future movies, and the shooting of JR. Like 1982’s Thriller, it’s an album that appeared to easily find a home within the record collection of rockers and poppers, punks and poets alike.

Ubiquity comes cheap in 2012 (thanks, internet), but in 1987, it was earned by being the best of the best. And Bad was just that: almost a greatest hits package, it spawned nine hit singles. Its chart campaign didn’t begin with the title cut, but with I Just Can’t Stop Loving You, a number one in both the US and UK. In Britain, Bad (the song) peaked at 3, as Rick Astley sat atop the pile.

The title track rocketed to No.1 in the US, followed by The Way You Make Me Feel, Man in the Mirror and Dirty Diana. Jackson’s star was at its zenith across the 1980s – but fame never guarantees critical approval. Yet Bad was as well-received in the press as it was by Jackson’s fans. It’s a special rarity: a commercial behemoth with nary a lapse in quality across its 48 minutes.

Quincy Jones’ production is tight yet yielding, every song allowed to breathe and never cluttered by needless elements. Dirty Diana is remarkably lean, Steve Stevens’ flamboyant guitar aside, yet powerful too. Speed Demon, deemed “filler” by critics at the time, is fun funk-rock that’d sit happily on a Prince album of the period, compositionally if not lyrically.

Unreleased demos make up the majority of this anniversary release’s second disc. Amongst the most interesting are Song Groove (A/K/A Abortion Papers) and Price of Fame. The former, aggressive of percussion yet light of synth, is about a Christian girl carrying an unwanted pregnancy. “Michael knew (it) could be controversial,” read the accompanying notes; but Jackson handles the subject matter with tenderness.

Price of Fame addresses the pressures Jackson felt as a pop idol. Of his obsessed followers, he wrote: “They’ll do anything and it’s breaking my heart… It’s running me crazy.” It is, perhaps, a first instance of the cracks that’d soon spread. But nothing that was to come in Jackson’s career could ever take the shine off this awesome, evergreen and essential pop masterpiece.

Mike Diver
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The BBC's album reviews ended in 2013, although the pages are archived for retrospective reading.
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