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Jackson's long-awaited `Bad' reveals a harder edge to his music

At last it has arrived: ``Bad,'' the long-awaited Michael Jackson album, five years after the release of ``Thriller.'' Not only was ``Thriller'' the biggest seller in pop music history; it garnered over 150 gold and platinum awards around the world, as well as eight Grammies and three MTV video awards. Stories have circulated that the almost three-year delay for the release of ``Bad'' was due to Jackson's fear that it might not match the success of ``Thriller.''

Now ``Bad'' has made a flashy entrance into the pop market, along with a video of the record's title song, aired this week on prime-time television. The video, directed by Martin Scorsese, is a ``West Side Story'' kind of tale about a school boy who comes back to face the street gangs in his neighborhood.

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By contrast, the album's first single, ``I Just Can't Stop Loving You,'' which has climbed to No. 2 on the Billboard magazine pop chart, is decidedly low key - a ballad instead of the usual upbeat fare.

Comparisons with ``Thriller'' and its predecessor, ``Off the Wall,'' are inevitable, of course, especially with the strains of ``Rock With You,'' ``Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough,'' ``Billie Jean,'' ``Beat It,'' and ``Human Nature'' permanently etched in the memory.

On first hearing, ``Bad'' sounds funky and danceable, and Jackson - whose personal image has become softer and more androgynous than ever - surprisingly comes across with a harder edge than on either of the previous albums. Subsequent listenings reveal some nifty hooks, especially the catchy guitar and bass lines on ``Another Part of Me,'' and the stealthy rat-a-tat chorus, ``Annie are you okay, are you okay, Annie?'' on ``Smooth Criminal,'' a grim tale of a murder.

Other highlights are ``Just Good Friends,'' where Jackson is joined by Stevie Wonder - in a kind of echo of his duet with Paul McCartney on ``The Girl Is Mine,'' from ``Thriller''; ``Liberian Girl,'' a moody, minor-key number melodically reminiscent of ``Billie Jean''; and ``Leave Me Alone,'' a plaintive wail that is included only on the compact disc version of the album.

Jackson is no innovator, and there is no stylistic upheaval on ``Bad.'' But the tone is a little sharper, funkier, and less jazzy than on ``Off the Wall'' and ``Thriller''; and the tunes are simple, enhanced by arrangements by Jackson himself and by Quincy Jones.

The only real minus is the lyrics (mostly by Jackson), which are pretty banal throughout: ``The way you make me feel/ You knock me off my feet/ My lonely days are gone'' and ``You know you came and you changed my world/ I wait for the day when you have to say `I do.'''

One nice exception is ``Man in the Mirror,'' written by Siedah Garrett and Glen Ballard, a song about making a change in life toward more compassion for others by starting with - that's right - the man in the mirror. This gospel-flavored number is one of the most engaging cuts on the album. On it, Jackson is joined by Miss Garrett, the Winans, and the Andrae Crouch Choir.

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Since the early days with his brothers in the Jackson Five, Michael Jackson has been the focus of considerable media attention, and in recent years, he has become increasingly reclusive. Stories and conjectures abound about his secretive personal life in his California mansion, surrounded by a menagerie of exotic animals. He has been criticized for creating an image, through plastic surgery and cosmetics, that denies his black heritage.

But through it all, Jackson's talent has prevailed, and at age 29 he is an established and dependable professional who will undoubtedly continue to produce memorable pop music.

Jackson begins his first solo tour Sept. 12 in Tokyo, with appearances in the US scheduled for 1988.

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