Released a full five years after Thriller, 1987’s Bad was the eccentric gloved one’s follow-up stab at moving into edgier, grittier territory. But Jackson’s paradoxical quest for popularity betrays his commercialism: the collection hangs together like the recommendations of a record company focus group. Blanketing musical genres, the guitar rock of ‘Dirty Diana’ joins power ballads, funk, love songs, a duet with Stevie Wonder and bluesy harmonies. And with Quincy Jones at the helm, the production is tighter than Rod Stewart’s trousers.
Hearing this music 25 years later – re-released as Bad 25 with a boosted second disc of shelved material, plus a deluxe edition with a 1988 live DVD – MJ’s bananas personal life, and his comparative posthumous redemption, are difficult to forget. Hints at the craziness to come can be found in Jackson’s incredulous pleas for privacy on ‘Leave Me Alone’ – pitched alongside his apparently unrelenting quest for yet further success and attention. ‘Smooth Criminal’ still sounds fresh and, as with much of his work, evokes visual imagery: here the ingenious Fred Astaire-inspired video that accompanied the single.
With Jackson’s James Brown-inspired whoops, yelps and ticks ever present, there’s a disheartening sense on this album that it wasn’t coming naturally, but instead was a self-conscious manifestation of a very famous man. Peering from the front cover like an mannequin in make-up, he cuts an eerie figure. Bad was the first album many of us ever owned, and looking back to our take as a kid, it was simply a collection of hits brimming with charisma, infectiousness and talent. While unquestionably dated and over-produced, this is still the case today, despite the uneasy sense that it was created by a guy in a strange mental place.