How do you review an album that’s been out for a quarter century? How do you review an album that spawned nine singles in various parts of the world and whose songs are recognized within seconds by the average pop music fan? In most cases, you don’t. Regardless of what you write, you’re gonna be preaching to the choir 90% of the time. So here I sit, trying to put together a review of the special edition package of Michael Jackson’s classic album Bad. Why am I doing this, you ask? Well, I’m doing it because if you buy the deluxe package, you get so much more than the original album (which, incidentally, is remastered…not that it sounds much different from its’ first remaster back in 2001.)
Bonus Material: Sure, there were a few bonus tracks on the 2001 reissue, tracks that were originally recorded for Bad, but didn’t make the final cut, like “Streetwalker” and “Fly Away.” Bad 25 offers up a few more tracks in various stages of completion. Michael worked alone on many of these tracks, and more than anything else, they give tremendous insight into Michael Jackson as a musician. Not just a song stylist, not just a songwriter, but as someone who can construct a song from the ground up. “I’m So Blue” (which could have been a single) and “Free” reveal how much he was influenced by the softer side of Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney, while the slammin’ “Price of Fame” is right in the pocket of what you’d consider a classic MJ groove to sound like (and also-to my ears-sounds reminiscent of many of the songs on his sister Janet’s Control album.) There’s also “Al Capone,” an early version of the song that would eventually become “Smooth Criminal.” You can certainly hear elements of what would eventually become the latter song in Michael’s vocal delivery as well as the song’s melodic structure. Even the songs that feature Michael mumbling gibberish as he tries to figure out the words are worth listening to. Trust me, you’ll come away with a new respect for the man.
Live CD & DVD: Truthfully-the DVD (from a 1988 show in London which was attended by Prince Charles Princess Diana) is no great shakes. Michael was never one for a lot of improvisation in his stage show. Hell, he recycled some of his material for damn near three decades. So if you have the Bucharest show (or a bootleg of a show from the Triumph or Victory tours) you’ve seen/experienced much of this before. Not to say it’s a throwaway, mind you. Even at his worst, Michael was an electrifying live performer, and this is far from Michael’s worst. You also get to see a young Sheryl Crow sporting about ten bottles of bronzer and a Taylor Dayne-esque hairdo. That’s almost worth the price of admission by itself.
The surprise, for me, was the CD recording of the same show. It’s the only commercially released recording of an MJ show. His band is super-tight, Michael is great voice (and only lip-syncs one song, quite contrary to what he’d do on future tours) and even though his vocal tics are a little annoying (he used them to overkill during this era) it’s still a fantastic listen.
Extra Material: The Bad package (which I bought on Amazon for a very reasonable price) contains 3 CDs, 1 DVD, a full color poster of MJ in a Bad-era pose, a sticker, and 2 thick booklets containing everything from notes from the executors of his estate to the original song credits and lyrics to photos of the 45 singles to studio pics. It’s obvious that the compilers of this package wanted to do right by Michael’s fans, many of whom have not been impressed by the releases that have appeared since the singer’s death.
Then, of course, there’s the music. No, Bad isn’t Thriller or Off the Wall, but when removed from the shadow of those two amazing pieces of work, it stands up pretty well. It was certainly one of the better contemporary pop/soul albums of the period, maybe just a step below the groundbreaking albums George Michael, Terence Trent D’Arby and Janet Jackson released around the same time. “Man in the Mirror” will still reduce you to mush with its’ power, “The Way You Make Me Feel” is still a whomping dance groove, and even “Liberian Girl” stands strong as a quiet storm ballad with a little bit of a bump to it. As for silliness like “Speed Demon” or the Stevie Wonder duet “Just Good Friends”? Well, they’re certainly better than…say…”The Girl Is Mine” or “Girlfriend.”
Needless to say, the compilers of Bad 25 outperformed my expectations (even with the shitty AfroJack remix of “Bad,” and I have not a minute’s regret about re-purchasing an album I already own twice–simply because of the packaging. If anything will dissuade you from going completely digital-buy this. Make sure all the Michael fans in your life have this-it’s the package they’ve been waiting for.