Michael Jackson: Bad – An In Depth Review
Imagine releasing the highest selling album of all time that pushed forward the boundaries of pop music and having to follow it up? What seems like a hard task comes off as effortless for Jackson, it was almost if impossible didn’t exist to him, throughout his career, he showed the world that nothing was out of his grasp – be it music, film or art, the man could do it all, his now 30-year-old seventh album, Bad, is just further proof of that.
Bad is where his influences came to light. From the short films to the music, everything is a reflection of where he came from – from Fred Astaire, gospel to West Side Story to James Brown, it is almost like Jackson was coming into his own as a musician whilst also celebrating the black artistry that inspired him in the first place. The result of this was an audacious effort that further cemented his place in history.
The title track, “Bad” opens the album with James Brown style horns, followed by a menacing blues bass line. It captures your attention instantly as it is a clear contrast from the post-disco pop opener, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin” on the preceding album, Thriller. From the first line, Jackson adopts an aggressive tone, taking a 180 turn from the glitzy funk fused pop of its predecessor. The boyish vocals and infectious disco grooves he had been known for are absent in this cut. David Williams’ signature guitar licks and Jerry Hey arranged horns then trail in reminding us that this is Michael Jackson we came for as Jimmy Smith’s organ solo leads the song out.
“The Way You Make Me Feel” is a definite contrast, a mid-tempo R&B infused pop song, opening with a growl and a synth bass line that is not necessarily a far cry from the opener but a change in character as we are re-introduced to the Michael Jackson we know and love. He swoons over a girl with such passion and intensity in his vocal delivery, with the energy he’d been known for previously since his early Motown days.
“Speed Demon” follows the same format, a funk-infused rock anthem that opens with motorcycle sounds and a James Brown-esque synth-bass line, concocting a rebellious biker demeanor from the first line, I’m heading for the border, encapsulating the tone of the album. Being that at the height of his career with no limits in his music, expanding his sound and breaking boundaries. The atmosphere of the instrumental reflects this, the synth-bass line and aggressive synth guitar licks imitating the engine of a motorcycle, acting almost as escapism for the listener.
“Liberian Girl”, an African fused R&B ballad opens with atmospheric synths and a Swahili chant, before we hear Jackson pour his heart out over an African girl – a motif that had not been explored in 1980’s pop music- empowering black women and comparing them to jewellery in the first verse, “more precious than any pearl“. It is another example of Jackson embracing his roots. The instrumental paints images of royalty, from the tribal synth lines to the African percussion, the harmonies in the chorus traveling almost as if he’s speaking directly to Liberian girls across the world.
“Just Good Friends”, a collaborative effort with soul legend, Stevie Wonder. Most notably, one of the only songs that was not penned by Jackson himself, has the two battling over a girl’s affection over an infectious synth-pop instrumental. The competitive nature is evident in their passionate delivery, proof of this is in the harmonies on the chorus and bridge.
“Another Part of Me”, an otherworldly funk-rebel anthem grasps our attention immediately with an atmospheric synth line imitating the opening doors of a spaceship, the drum claps acting as the slammed door closing us in his world with no escape, the first line rebelliously asserting “We’re taking over”. At this point, we have been taken hostage in Jackson’s world, the record serves as an uplifting yet equally haunting world message. The drum clap imitating the sound of a marching band revolting against inequality. The harmonies that follow the chorus travel around the room, surrounding you, haunting you the same way Temperton penned cuts did on Off The Wall.
“Man In The Mirror”, a gospel infused R&B record also serves as a world message, it contrasts in nature to “Another Part of Me”. It was written by music legend and former Brand New Heavies member, Siedah Garrett and frequent collaborator, Glen Ballard. Jackson directs the listener personally, evoking a connection between everyone in the world, putting forward a message that is still relevant in the turbulent times of today, a notion of change. Unmistakably one of the most impactful songs that was ever released, sparking the minds of impressionable kids to adults. It is debatably, alongside “Another Part of Me”, the most significant song in his discography, it captures the heart and morals he had whilst alive. Notably, further proof of his origins, since Jackson begins a call and response chant with The Andrae Crouch Choir, giving off the impression of a pastor in a church.
“I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”, another collaborative effort with Siedah Garrett, acts as an encapsulation of love. Our narrators, Jackson and Garrett swoon over each other with impassioned vocals over a dreamy R&B instrumental, their love for the each other is inescapable, creating a classic love story “my life ain’t worth living if I can’t be with you“, the pause in the chorus comes across as a realisation point for them, knowing they are helpless without each other. The bridge is further proof of this, “This is my life and I want to see you always“, Jackson’s talent for songwriting is evident here, avoiding cliches whilst delivering poetic confessions, reminiscent of various sonnets and Shakespearean plays.
“Dirty Diana” is a return to the aggressive nature of Bad, the demeanour that is promised on the cover. As we hear the stage door open and fans’ applause, Jackson narrates a story about a woman trying to seduce him at his concert, instantaneously evoking a sense of helplessness, the instrumental acting as a mirror for the menacing nature of said antagonist, Diana. Revisiting subject matter previously explored on “Billie Jean” – the dehumanisation by fans objectifying him as a trophy, fighting over his affection.
Jackson delivers a couplet of lines helplessly, insinuating he is on the verge of tears, before a guitar solo leads the track out.
“Smooth Criminal”, the penultimate track, exchanges parallels with Bad, beginning with James Brown influenced horns as we hear the drum clap imitate a gunshot – as Jackson starts with his signature scream and narrates a crime scene in staccato over an infectious synth bass-line and David Williams guitar licks, a sound Jackson is known for. The instrumental is yet another mirror as it reflects the atmosphere of the song, the guitar licks and drums acting as a firing gun, the bass line following Jackson’s travelling vocals, it’s almost as if we are inside the crime scene and experiencing it as it happens. It also summarises the album’s nature and acts as the denouement for the protagonist that Jackson has introduced us to, leaving us unaware what he will do next and the state of Annie – which was Jackson’s nature completely, unpredictable, a mystery to this day.
“Leave Me Alone”, the album’s finale, a response to the flood of rumours about Jackson in the media at the time acts as a fourth wall break almost, he’s not the character in Bad, the rebel in Another Part of Me, Captain EO. He’s Michael Jackson, a vulnerable human hurt by the media’s stories and wanting to remain solitaire in his world that we were fortunate enough to experience throughout the album. A cry for help, if you will, from a man who has been surrounded by lights and cameras since 11 years of age, growing up in the public eye. Being subject to controversy and vicious rumours, the instrumental imitates the atmosphere of the song, the drum clap acting as a slammed door as he gives us the final glimpse of the world of Michael Jackson.
Featured post by Marcus T. Graham (@marcustgraham)