The downside to a success like Thriller is that it's nearly impossible to follow, but Michael Jackson approached Bad much the same way he approached Thriller -- take the basic formula of the predecessor, expand it slightly, and move it outward. This meant that he moved deeper into hard rock, deeper into schmaltzy adult contemporary, deeper into hard dance -- essentially taking each portion of Thriller to an extreme, while increasing the quotient of immaculate studio craft. He wound up with a sleeker, slicker Thriller, which isn't a bad thing, but it's not a rousing success, either. For one thing, the material just isn't as good. Look at the singles: only three can stand alongside album tracks from its predecessor ("Bad," "The Way You Make Me Feel," "I Just Can't Stop Loving You"), another is simply OK ("Smooth Criminal"), with the other two showcasing Jackson at his worst (the saccharine "Man in the Mirror," the misogynistic "Dirty Diana"). Then, there are the album tracks themselves, something that virtually didn't exist on Thriller but bog down Bad not just because they're bad, but because they reveal that Jackson's state of the art is not hip. And they constitute a near-fatal dead spot on the record -- songs three through six, from "Speed Demon" to "Another Part of Me" (a sequence that's utterly faceless, lacking memorable hooks and melodies, even when Stevie Wonder steps in for "Just Good Friends") relies on nothing but studio craft. Part of the joy of Off the Wall and Thriller was that craft was enhanced with tremendous songs, performances, and fresh, vivacious beats. For this dreadful stretch, everything is mechanical, and while the album rebounds with songs that prove mechanical can be tolerable if delivered with hooks and panache, it still makes Bad feel like an artifact of its time instead of a piece of music that transcends it. And if that wasn't evident proof that Jackson was losing touch, consider this -- the best song on the album is "Leave Me Alone" (why are all of his best songs paranoid anthems?), a tune tacked on to the end of the CD and never released as a single, apart from a weirdly claustrophobic video that, not coincidentally, was the best video from the album.
[This is not the first expanded edition of Bad but the 2001 reissue didn't have much in way of substantive bonus material. Two outtakes called "Streetwalker" and "Fly Away," plus a Spanish version of "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" was about it. That's not the case with this 25th Anniversary Edition, which is a full-fledged deluxe edition, containing a full disc of outtakes and demos in either its simple two-disc iteration or its lavish 3-CD/1-DVD incarnation (there are also some new EDM-flavored remixes from Afrojack and Nero that are perfectly fine for what they are), which adds a third CD of live performances from Jackson's July 16, 1988 performance at Wembley Stadium, along with the entire concert on the accompanying DVD. The bonus material captures two different sides of Jackson: the live material is a dazzling showcase for his skills as a showman while the rough studio outtakes demonstrate his craftsmanship. Although the Wembley show is certainly entertaining -- he makes spectacle seem effortless -- everything revealing on this 25th Anniversary Edition arrives on the unreleased demos, where Jackson is working out song structure, choruses, and words. Some of the darker undercurrents of Bad surface yet again -- he frets over the "Price of Fame," he sings about "Abortion Papers" on a puzzling, compelling "Song Groove" -- and elsewhere it's clear that Jackson is liberated by the process of creating; the rougher, spare sound of these demos comparing quite favorably to the sometimes suffocating polish of Bad. This is particularly true of "Al Capone," an early version of "Smooth Criminal" that's fleet on its feet and considerably less cartoonish, but such lightness can also be heard on "Don't Be Messin'Around" -- a sweetened, concentrated version of "Wanna Be Startin' Something" -- and the smooth, crystalline pop of "I'm So Blue" and "Free," quiet storm numbers that function as bridges between Bad and Thriller. These are the moments that make this expansion worthwhile, illustrating that beneath the glitz and glamour, there was a sharp, canny musician who took considerable pleasure in his work.] ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine