The Album: The essence of Michael Jackson’s solo career is his trilogy of work with Quincy Jones, where in less than a decade they unleashed three wildly successful albums on the world: Off The Wall, Thriller (the biggest seller in history) and Bad. This week sees the release of the 25th anniversary edition of Bad, a box set that includes an additional bonus CD of demos and remixes, and a DVD of Jackson’s 1988 sold out concert at London’s Wembley Stadium at the height of Michael-mania.
Perhaps emboldened by the success of his own songwriting on Off The Wall and Thriller, Jackson seemed intent on writing the entire Bad album himself. What he failed to realize was that his previous writing worked so well because it was heard in full-album context with other songs written by some of the best in the business. Therefore, while Wall and Thriller featured a full six tunes written by Rod Temperton, and a bunch more by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, David Foster, Carole Bayer Sager, Quincy Jones and others, that successful formula was all but missing on Bad, and the result was a fairly one-dimensional sounding album. Yes it did sell 8 million copies, and musically it certainly has its moments– “Man In The Mirror” (one of only two songs on Bad that Michael didn’t write) remains one of his best ever– one could argue that Michael could have sequeled Thriller with a CD of white noise and still reached platinum status. It would seem Quincy took a backseat for this outing, perhaps understandably so considering MJ’s global explosion at the time, but artistically questionable in hindsight.
Sonically, the new Bad 25 offers a well-done remastered version of the original, yet for all it’s clarity and punch there is a still a rather dated quality to the heavy synth and drum machine arrangements. A nice surprise is the additional CD of bonus tracks, as we hear unreleased songs in various stages of completion that Jackson had been working on for possible inclusion on Bad. These too are all written by Michael, but his songs like “Free”, “Abortion Papers” and “I’m So Blue”, had they been finished, probably would have been better choices than several of the songs that appear on the original. There are also three brand new remixes, the best of which is a “Bad” remix by AfroJack featuring Pitbull. Of course, what’s a dance mix without Pitbull these days, but to hear him on a 25 year-old Michael Jackson track is truly something else indeed.
The real bonus of this deluxe set is the DVD concert at Wembley. The show was taped in July 1988, in the middle of MJ’s 16-month global tour in support of Bad. The concert is filmed well, the audio is excellent thanks to the original multi-track recording of this show and the 5.1 audio version included in this release. Michael and his band are on fire (no, not Coke-commercial fire), and the concert is a spectacular event, as the gang run through songs from every era of Michael’s career from early Jackson 5 hits to the then-current radio staples of Bad.
The Bassists: Synth bass dominates here, with much of the work expertly handled by Greg Phillinganes. Only one track uses bass guitar, which is “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”, and as always Nathan East offers a perfect supporting low end performance. The Wembley DVD features bassist Don Boyette, and he delivers big time. Boyette also gets the opportunity to stretch out for an extended solo midway through the set, as the band takes a 10-minute jam while Michael is backstage for a wardrobe change.
Best New Tracks: “Abortion Papers”, “Don’t Be Messin Round”, “Free”, Bad remix (Afrojack feat. Pitbull).