A three-disc box set celebrating the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson's first post-Thriller album, Bad, arrived in stores this week. I feel like I've been inundated with Bad25 propaganda via the Internet. There was also a two-hour special on BET last night featuring all nine of the Bad videos and people like Ashanti babbling about how galvanizing "Man in the Mirror" was and how it inspired her to be a better person. She was 7 when it was released.
I feel like I'm one of the few pop fans who thinks this album is entirely overrated, that our fondness for it is almost entirely reliant on nostalgia and that it is popular now because it was popular ten. Yes, there are good tunes — Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones didn't get to be the most formidable team in '80s pop based on deception. But "Bad" is ridiculous ("Your butt is mine" is the first line, I'll remind you), "Speed Demon" is dumb, "Liberian Girl" is dreadfully boring, "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" is treacly, "Leave Me Alone" is contradictory and "Man in the Mirror" is self-congratulatory. Cheese abounds and there isn't enough "shamone" and bizarre, circuitous narratives (as in "Smooth Criminal") to compensate.
Mostly, though, I dislike how it sounds — it's overloaded with treble and its low end is afraid of going too low. The time between disco (slash post-disco boogie) and the commercial takeover of house was a rough set of years for electronic pop and soul, and Bad is a product of this flimsily beat time. (Prince, as well as Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, bucked the trends of the day.) So sprucing up the album via a new remaster is like shining one of MJ's baby hairs. What's the point?
(That said, I have a new appreciation for "The Way You Make Me Feel," which I have long found too saccharine, thanks in part to the call and response of the chorus. Here it pulsates and throbs, the intricacy of its production fully revealed.)
A disc of demos accompanies the remastered album (the third is a live disc from a Bad Tour recording). It's more a curio than a sequel, and Bad's cheesy tendencies run rampant on what didn't make the cut, but it's still cool to hear a singer that was typically shrouded in state-of-the-art sonics (even if that state was ultimately disappointing) sound so lo-fi. "Al Capone" has a lot of MJ's silliness (hear his contrived gruffness in the chorus), but the hook is strong and this is about as close as Jackson ever got to dabbling with Latin freestyle. You can probably tell by the bass line that this song went on to become "Smooth Criminal."
I am, though, looking forward to Dangerous25. While also imperfect, many of that album's beats (at least, those provided by new jack swing maestro Teddy Riley) are bricks compared to Bad's cotton balls.