Jackson's complicated world. Does "God, I need you" in the carnal duet "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" constitute blasphemy in the wake of his departure from the Witnesses? Is the liner note to "Mother & Joseph Jackson" a tea leaf of familial discord or a casual term of address? Does anyone really care?
Nor should it matter to anyone but the beneficiaries of its anticipated sales whether Bad moves 4 or 12 or 50 million units. Comparisons with Thriller are unimportant, except this one: even without a milestone recording like "Billie Jean," Bad is a better record. The filler "Speed Demon," "Dirty Diana," arguably "Liberian Girl" is Michael's filler, which makes it richer, sexier, better than Thriller's forgettables: "Baby Be Mine," "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)," "Lady in My Life."
Leaving the muddy banks of conjecture as to sales, as to facial surgery, as to religion, as to, Is he getting it, and if so, from whom or what? we can soar into the heart of a nifty piece of work. Bad offers two songs, its title cut and "Man in the Mirror," that stand among the half dozen best things Jackson has done. A third, "The Way You Make Me," is nearly as good. The only mediocrity is "Just Good Friends" (one of two songs not written by M.J.), a Stevie Wonder pairing that starts well but devolves into a chin-bobbing cheerfulness that is unforced but also, sadly, unearned.
Churls may bemoan "I Just Can't Stop Loving You," Jackson's duet with the often indistinguishable Siedah Garrett, as a second unworthy entry. Without descending to musical McCarthyism and questioning the honor of anyone who can fault a record with both finger snaps and timpani, it need only be asked, Who, having heard the song at least twice, can fail to remember that chorus?
Bad is not only product but also a cohesive anthology of its maker's perceptions. Where "Lady in My Life" was as believable as Abba's phonetic re-recording of its hits in Spanish, "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" quivers with the kind of desire that makes men walk bent at the waist. "Liberian Girl" glistens with gratitude for the existence of a loved one.
Once again, Jackson has written songs as dreams, and once again he has the unselfconsciousness to present them without interpretation. "Speed Demon," the car song, is a fun little power tale, in which Jackson's superego