Michael Jackson performing at the Super Bowl in Pasadena in 1993. (Rusty Kennedy )
A quarter of a century ago, Michael Jackson released “Bad,” his follow-up to the blockbuster album "Thriller." It sold over 30 million copies, contained many hits that you can probably sing by heart -- “Dirty Diana,” “Smooth Criminal,” “Man in the Mirror,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” and others -- and has become one of the touchstone pop recordings of the era.
Since his death, Jackson’s record label Sony Music has understandably started capitalizing on his legacy, doling out a handful of tracks for last year’s “Michael” album and adding remixes to his Cirque du Soleil performance. Now, on "Bad 25," the label has dug into the archives for a disc’s worth of unreleased rehearsal recordings and a complete 1988 live performance at London’s Wembley Stadium.
The result is the three-CD, one-DVD box set released Tuesday. The set’s list price is 34.99. Is it worth it?
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The sturdy box, which is kept shut with a nifty magnet, includes two double-disc collections with glossy cardboard gatefold sleeves. The first features a remastered version of 10-song album (with the bonus track "Leave Me Alone") and a selection of demos on the second disc that illustrate the musician at work.
The best of these is also the most revealing: a track tentatively titled "Song Groove" but also known as "Abortion Papers." Somewhat understandably, Jackson struggled with the lyrics to this story about a teen pregnancy, and ultimately decided not to tackle the hot-button issue on "Bad."
Also featured on that disc are new remixes by current EDM hitmakers Afrojack and Nero intended, one would assume, to appeal to a young generation that wasn’t yet born when Jackson was a commercial force. These are terrible commercial house tracks -- especially Afrojack's "Bad" remix featuring Pitbull -- and are an insult to MJ's memory not because they rework his music, but because they do it so ungracefully.
Two different glossy booklets focus on, respectively, the recording of “Bad” and a rundown of the outakes, and the Wembley Stadium performance of July 16, 1988. They’re detailed accounts, filled with dozens of striking photos of Jackson in performance, and behind-the-scenes glimpses of him with his many admirers.
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That Wembley gig is documented in its entirety on DVD, and shows Jackson in peak form, moving through then-new songs and dipping into his back catalog to highlight both earlier solo work and a hot medley of Jackson 5 hits. It's a solid, if thinly recorded, document that lacks sonic heft. The rhythm section sounds a mile away, and lacks the pop of a well-recorded concert.
And, for the 8-year-old kid in you, the package also includes a fold-out poster and a “Bad 25” sticker you can put on your locker door.
Worth noting are other versions of this collection that are also available. A two-CD set features only the remastered "Bad" and disc of outtakes and is available for $12.99, and you can get just the Wembley show and DVD for the same price. A "Deluxe Collector's Edition" features all of the above plus a fancier box and an MJ T-shirt, and is available for $199.99.
Price, though, isn't the issue for a product designed for diehard MJ fanatics who covet posters and stickers as much as they do the music. At $35, the full box isn't a bad deal if you're a completist. The asking price of the $200 version is more than a little ridiculous, but this is Michael Jackson we're talking about.
Alas, regardless of which version you take, consumers will have no choice but to receive the aforementioned new remixes. Which is a shame because not only do they tarnish a legacy, but signal a future in which Jackson's music is officially deconstructed to unfortunate ends with full sanction of the singer's estate.
Here's hoping that Paris Jackson has better taste in dance music than estate co-executors John Branca and John McClain.
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Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit