As with the "Bad" blog (click here to read), the purpose of this blog is to discuss the music on the album. At NO POINT will there be any discussion on the rumours surrounding Michael Jackson's personal life. We all know what the rumours are and here is not the place. We do not want to get sued back to the Stone-Age. Thank you.
During the 80's, Michael Jackson was a fucking phenomenon. Having built his credentials in the 70's with The Jackson Five, and the start of a promising solo career, the release of 1979 album "Off The Wall" brought him to the superstar table. The 80's then came about and his career hit the stratosphere with "Thriller" and "Bad". There was also another album with his brothers. Adding to this was the movie "Moonwalker", which - if we're honest - was a bag of wet shit but with a great soundtrack. As the decade came to an end, there was talk of a new album. This was the follow-up to "Bad"...
Released in 1991, it marked the first solo album in four years - and there were noticable changes. Longtime producer Quincy Jones wasn't in the production chair, instead production duties were handled by Jackson himself, alongside Teddy Riley, Bill Bottrell and Bruce Swedien. The first thing you hear regarding the sound of this album is that it's very much influenced by New Jack Swing, something that the label thought would help MJ in the 90's market. This was a genre that was especially popular in the late 80's early 90's, it took the best parts of pop, RnB and hip-hop and added them into one big melting pot. The most noticable acts of the genre were Bobby Brown, Bell Biv Devoe, Boyz II Men and (the fucking awful) Color Me Badd. And now it was MJ's turn. The thing he was always good at was taking a style and rather than simply trying to ape it, he'd make his interpretation of it. Be it from the funk disco of "Off The Wall" and "Thriller" to the pop sheen of "Bad", he manages to add his own stamp to whatever he does. He knew his place and didn't stray too far from the pop territory he ruled for a long, long time.
Another thing this era gave us was even more expansive videos which - in an MJ tradition that started with the video to "Thriller", were often 10-15 min long in their uncut format, almost like minature movies or something. The video to "Remember The Time", for instance, had Eddie Murphy as an Egyptian Pharoh, Iman was his wife and basketball player Magic Johnson was his bodyguard. Very elaborate, if I remember. I guess the accountants had one eye on the bank balance after this because the other videos after this one were quite minimal for MJ standards. Anyhow, enough of my yakking, whaddya say, let's boogie!*
The album deals with subjects MJ had dealt with before; themes of racism, poverty, self improvement, child welfare and the state of the world. As in the "Bad" blog, it was highlighted that the first two tracks were silly pop songs, or words to that effect (Go read it, link at the top). This doesn't seem to be the case here as the first two songs - "Jam" and "Why You Wanna Trip On Me?" start off quite frantic, dealing with world issues. It is certainly quite the contrast. They both sound quite heavy for MJ standards.
The next song is a personal fave of mine - and caused a bit of a stir. It's a duet with Princess Stephanie Of Monaco and recants the tale of two lovers who make a vow of whatever they say or do to each other, they promise to keep it secret. In other words - KEEP IT IN THE CLOSET! Yup, the song is "In The Closet" and it's another eye-opener. Up to this point, MJ songs about love had tended to be dancy pop numbers or ballads which ended up sounding a bit schmaltzy. Not this one - it sounds fucking perverse! MJ is ready to get down and dirty and whilst it's not an image anyone with a sane mind wants to picture, it's a fucking great song. It was allegedly supposed to be a duet with Madonna (who was still something of a credible artist in 1991 and not quite a washed-up, past-it old harridian who goes onstage looking like mutton dressed as mutton like she is today) but due to her ideas for the song being a bit too rude for MJ, the partnership didn't last long. It has an atmospheric, almost haunting melody. The video had MJ trying to get down with Naomi Campbell in the desert. Great song! "She Drives Me Wild" is up next, and it follows the same NJS format - and if I'm honest, it's a bit of a come-down after the last song. It could have been written for Bobby Brown. While a solid number, it's not particularly memorable.
Luckily, we're then onto "Remember The Time" - again, another one that could've been written for Bobby Brown, MJ manages to make it sound like him. A smooth number which doesn't drown under the NJS influence as much as the last song, it's a great song. The video was especially elaborate, as mentioned. It used to make me laugh how it was set in ancient Egypt yet had lyric "We stayed on the phone from night until dawn"...the ancient Egyptians weren't THAT advanced! Still, it's another great song on the album. We're not doing too badly up to now.
The next two songs are unfortunaltely a bit forgettable. "Can't Let Her Get Away" which again is buried under the NJS sound. And "Heal The World" which is one of the aforementioned schmaltzy ballads. Well, it's more like another example of MJ's 'Messiah Complex' which started with "Man In The Mirror" and ultimately comulated with "Earth Song". Sure, there are some nice vocal harmonies in the latter but ultimately, it isn't too good.
"Black Or White" is up next - and it's a cracking song. The intro for the video (The bit where Macauley Culkin is getting told off by George Wendt - Norm Peterson in "Cheers" - for playing his music too loud) - and the album - has a guitar performance by Slash who was in Guns 'n' Roses at the time. Dealing with the subject of race, it's basically saying we're alright regardless of our colour. The video was a Benetton ad with a huge budget and caused a kick-off due to the unedited version which had MJ go mental and trash a car as well as put a few windows out. Sketch show In Living Color did a class set-up of it! Musically, it's a mixture of funk and pop. See, it's about this part of the album where the NJS influences are starting to get a bit thin so to hear this song is a relief. "Who Is It" is up next - and it's another good one. MJ is lamenting a break-up amid what sounds like some decent pop music with a class bassline. The lead into the chorus reminds me of "Billie Jean". As mentioned, it's another great song.
Another great song is up next - "Give In To Me". Once again dealing with the subject of sex, it veers into hard rock territory thanks to another performance by Slash. It's basically MJ demanding some. In some ways, it's perhaps the closest MJ has got to hard rock - even more so than "Dirty Diana". This song as mentioned, deals witht eh subject of sex and has a dark undercurrent. It's like MJ has had enough of pop fluff and is trying to be a grown-up or something. Definately one of the best on this album. But then...
Holy Hell, we're back into schmaltz territory! "Will You Be There" (used in the movie "Free Willy", apparently) is actually quite good, admittedly. A nice, relaxing drum pattern amid some gospel choir vocals plus a few nice key changes. It's a bloody contrast to the last song! "Keep The Faith" follows next and sounds very much like a turn-of-the-decade ballad with some...'interesting' drum effects. Seriously, it sounds like two songs at once. "Gone Too Soon" slows things down even further! Fuck me, pass the valium, we're partying now! It's not quite as slow as "She's Out Of My Life", but nor is it as good. It seems a bit odd having three slow songs in a row, luckily it's at the end of the album otherwise it would have killed the overall flow.
The title track "Dangerous" brings the album to a close. It marks a welcome return to the NJS sound - seems MJ knew they were going overboard with that at the start of the album so decided to break things up a bit. As an album closer, it feels kind of an anti-climax but it's an alright song.
So, there you have it. MJ's first musical output of the 90's. It's a confusing album as it seems that although there is an attempt to mature his sound somewhat, the filler that brings the album down is superseeded by the songs which are otherwise excellent. The main problem is the album is too long. As with "Bad", there are about eight decent songs and if the album had have had those songs instead of the filler, it would have been an excellent album. Not that this album is as good as "Bad" but it's still a decent slice of MJ when he was making great music. I always thought that after this album, his music wasn't as good bar the odd one or two songs. I'm giving this album the rating of 7 due to the strength of the decent material. It does just enough to save the album from a lower score.
7 - This is good and well worth a check.
Top track: Give In To Me.
Now I tried the Spotify for this album and other than the' Free Willy' song, it didn't seem to work. Hope you have more luck.
The album is available on iTunes as well.
(Can you get any more 90's than the above photo?)
*With apologies to Rob Reiner.