I have a confession to make. When Bad was originally released 25 years ago I was in love with it, so much so that I would think to myself about how awesome it would be if I ever got the chance to see Michael Jackson in concert and he just happened to toss his hat my way. It was the initials of our names, you see. I thought the serendipity of that MJ meant something because this was music that – despite the fact that I was a chubby Louisiana boy with no rhythm at all – made me want to dance.
That’s why I fairly leapt at the opportunity to give a listen to the recently released 25th Anniversary edition of the album. After about a good 36 or so listens I’m pleased to say that this new version of an old favorite holds up very well, and is loaded with some very nice extras that make it twice as exciting to fans of the original release.
Having said that, I would like to point out that there seems to be multiple options if one wants to purchase their own copy of this release, ranging from the package I’m reviewing (3-CD/1-DVD) all the way down to simply the single remastered CD of the original album.
As for that 3-CD/1-DVD package I’ve been fortunate enough to listen to/watch, I think it’s the one to go for out of all the various options. What you get is a CD containing the original album remastered (and sounding great), a CD containing early versions of songs that ultimately made it onto the album or songs that for some reason or another were never released (until now), a DVD of Michael Jackson live in concert in 1988 at Wembley, and the audio from that same concert on CD.
Bad, Michael Jackson’s third and final album produced by Quincy Jones, perhaps came too long after the monster success of Thriller, but those five years in between found Jackson emerging fully matured as a writer and producer in his own right. Eight out of the album’s original 10 songs (or 11 if you count the CD-only addition of “Leave Me Alone”) were written by Jackson, which marked the first time he wrote a great majority of a record. Whatever you may think of the man, there is no way to deny the exquisite craftsmanship that went into songs like “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Smooth Criminal,” “Dirty Diana” and “Leave Me Alone.”
Along with the words, Bad is just awash in amazing dance grooves, iconic pop hooks and some of the most impeccable vocal performances ever laid down in a pop album. It’s in that light – the breathtaking precision and OCD search for studio perfection that was driving Jackson at this point in his life – that truly shines on this remastered version of Bad. There were moments when I would find myself alternating between my older CD version of the album and this new one and I’d be amazed at all the different layers of sound I could now hear floating behind every bass line and song lyric.
It just leaves me flat-footed and capable of only saying “wow” at times.
As for the second CD containing bonus tracks, demos, rarities and remixes? Refreshing. Instead of being what I was afraid of – newly produced and created songs layered over original demos that go above and beyond what Jackson himself would have been able to hear – this disc is only comprised of true Bad-era songs. And what songs they are! From the funky strut of “Streetwalker” to “Al Capone” which eventually meta-morphed itself into “Smooth Criminal” to the smooth pop vibe of “Free,” there are some truly enjoyable songs that truly add to the understanding of the time and effort it took to create Bad in the first place.
Finally, the final two discs – the DVD and audio CD covering Jackson’s 1988 Wembley shows recorded at the height of his world tour supporting Bad – are wondrous. This was Jackson’s first solo world tour and to see it documented showing him at the peak of his powers, as it were, is just fascinating (to this reviewer, who never got the chance to see him live in concert in any other way than through recordings such as this).
These two recordings just exude pure energy and while watching it I’m thunderstruck by how effortless this lithe little man seems to make spending over two hours singing and dancing his absolute heart out for thousands of adoring fans. (I get tired just lip-syncing and trying to do the occasional move with just my arms, while watching.)
Long story short, this 25th anniversary package of Bad is fantastic both for the serious Jackson fan or for the casual fan of pop music in general. Sure, Bad is not the behemoth that is Thriller. But, the fact that it’s even in the same conversation as Thriller and the dedication and craftsmanship shown by Jackson in creating it and by the people remastering and supplementing it, serves to do nothing less than give us a true musical celebration of a man and his moment in the spotlight.