Monday 18thSeptember marked the 25thanniversary of the release of Michael Jackson’sBad.
You may not have known or noticed, since the music press at large seem to have ignored the song and dance Michael Jackson’s estate are laying on for the occasion. In fact, David Aaron seems to have been the only music journalist who felt compelled to write about and reassess Bad in the September issue of Clash.
Alternatively you may just not care; after a quick discussion at RBP HQ this week, the general consensus was that it was an overproduced album by an artist creatively frozen by a debilitating obsession with topping his already superlative achievements. And that’s pretty much the conclusion music history has resignedBadto as well.
The Estate of Michael Jackson, though, are determined to rewrite said history. The re-issue ofBad, entitledBad 25, is being marketed as the album that represents “Michael Jackson’s creative coming of age as a solo artist.” If you resist the knee-jerk reaction of immediately thinking ofThriller (or evenOff the Wall) as Michael’s defining moment of artistic maturity, they’ve actually got a point.Badwas the album that saw him take the reins: he co-produced the entire record, wrote nine out of its eleven songs, it spawned five number one singles, took him on a world tour that saw him perform in front of around 4.5 million people, and currently has sales of 35 million. NotBadat all.
If you don’t believe me then you should give theBad 25deluxe box set a whirl. As well as a remastered copy ofBad, you’ll find a live CD and DVD of Michael Jackson’s July 16, 1988 gig at Wembley Stadium, which is a serious gem. As any Michael Jackson fan will manically tell you, this is a big deal. There have been nothing but low quality bootlegs and YouTube videos of this tour available until now. I’ve watched this DVD and listened to the CD numerous times already.
I was yet to be born at the time of theBadtour and have always refused to watch substandard footage of it, so I’m relishing finally getting to see Michael Jackson at his unequivocal best. A further treatBad 25offers is a selection of previously unreleased demo recordings that Michael made at his Hayvenhurst home studio.
Some of the bonus material provided will already be well known to those who have the 2001 re-release ofBad; ‘Streetwalker’ is a slick production which sounds like a done and dusted track that if it were not for the resemblances it shares with ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ would surely have been a shoe in for inclusion on the original album release. There is also ‘Fly Away’, an airy fairy wisp of a ballad that sounds like something Michael could have distractedly sang whilst tying his shoes or making a sandwich (if he actually did either of those things, of course). Plus there’s a Spanish version of ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’ and the further addition of a French take too which, fact fans, is not merely a translation of the original but actually uses entirely different lyrics that add up to a song titled ‘I Don’t Want The End Of Us’.
There are also a few remixes of the album’s title track and ‘Speed Demon’ by the likes of Nero and Afrojack which don’t bare thinking about, let alone listening to (trust me, I’ve tried). The five truly exclusive demos that have now been let loose, which were all at varying stages of completion, present an assortment of compositions that give an insight into Jackson’s song writing and recording process. Here’s a rundown of what you can expect from the demos in question:
‘Don’t Be Messin’ Round’ – This sounds like the bare bones of a track, framed by a basic, stepping piano riff with a gentle yet driven groove which has an air of ‘Dancing In The Street’ about it. It’s a tale reminiscent of ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ with Jackson trying to woo an obstinate woman whom instructs him to “keep your mind on dancing, there won’t be no romancing or messing around with me.” Bad luck. The funk breakdown that fades the track out is a short but welcome glimpse of an uninhibited Jackson.
‘I’m So Blue’ – On the surface, this is nothing more than a pleasant, syrupy ditty but the lyrics, now with hindsight on our side, are an exposé of Jackson’s troubles with loneliness. He tells of how he sings to “stop myself from feeling blue” but he’s been “singing for so very long.” The lyrics are simple but affective (“I’m so sad and lonely, tell me what will I do”) and are given a warm vocal delivery. It’s a track that’s not too far removed, in both tone and sentiment, from the 1978 Jacksons’ number ‘That’s What You Get (For Being Polite)’.
‘Song Groove’ (AKA ‘Abortion Papers’) –The narrative of the song tells of a girl who is raised by her father, a man of the church, and knows her Bible well but needs to have an abortion. This is clearly controversial material, especially when Michael sings of “Signing your name against the word of God,” but Jackson knew this was an extremely sensitive issue as he provided a note with the demo stating that his intention is not to “offend girls who have gotten abortions or bring back guilt trips.” This wasn’t the first time Michael handed out family planning advice though; I beseech you to cast your mind back to the pragmatism he preaches on ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’’ of “If you can’t feed your baby, then don’t have a baby.” Musically the track is made up of the synthetic industrial beats that largely characterise Bad as a whole.
‘Free’ – The title pretty much gives this one away. It’s a mid-tempo number on which Jackson wishes for the freedom of the wind and birds. His voice is conserved during the verses but is spread like melted, golden butter over the sugary chorus. Hang on until the end to hear Jackson let out a chuckle and an admonition of someone in the studio being “so silly.”
‘Price Of Fame’ – Once again, the title makes it rather clear what we’re getting here. This complaint of fame and celebrity is a close thematic and sonic cousin of ‘Leave Me Alone’, with added hints of Billie Jean-esque paranoia. When he reaches lyrics about his father telling him of the price he will pay for his fame and that Michael is not to complain about it, it almost seems to pain Michael to sing the line, “My father never lies” as he is trying to convince himself, rather than us, of his father’s moral integrity.
‘Al Capone’ – Despite the linear notes claiming just how extraordinary it is to think that ‘Smooth Criminal’ was birthed from this demo I’m not sure how anyone could listen to this track and not hear ‘Smooth Criminal’ emerging from it. It’s centred on a crime and a helpless female victim (who would later become Annie) and sees Michael spitting out vocals which mirror a persistent bass riff before launching into a breathy falsetto chorus, therefore it’s just like ‘Smooth Criminal’ but enjoyable and fascinating nonetheless.
Eerily emerging earlier this year with the darkened psychological pop of viral track and collage video ‘Hurricane,’ MS MR became the kind of online sensation that only the 21st century music blogging community could create. Despite the immense acclaim the elevated vocals and ominous ambience that MS MR’s sound received, who was behind the track remained an impenetrable secret. However, as the band have begun to hit the live circuit the veil of mystery had to descend. In the midst of the unique release strategy of their debut EP ‘Candy Bar Creep Show,’ which involves new, original material by the band being exclusively posted on their highly popular Tumblr alongside artwork, videos and remixes, IDOL unmasked both MS (Lizzie Plapinger – yes, of Neon Gold Records) and MR (Max Hershenow.)
First things first,
you guys have been keeping your identities under wraps, so can you each tell me
a bit about yourselves and how the band came together?
Well I’m originally from Idaho. Lizzie and I met in college, we weren’t really
friends though, but we were friendly. I was working as a producer for a little
band at college that had barely started, but when we graduated that project
fell apart. So after graduation I emailed Lizzie, she runs a record label [Neon Gold Records], and said that I was
interested in producing and I wanted to develop into a producer and wanted to
know if there were any acts that she wanted to continue develop as well. She
replied with a long email about how she herself was an artist and was interested,
and that she wanted to, I don’t know, just bang it out.
You know, keeping our names out of it and keeping it anonymous was really
important to us from the start, mostly because it’s very much that Max and I
have written all of the music together and have shared everything very equally.
I run a record label called Neon Gold, and because I have a leg in the music
industry and my name was sort of known... Not that a blind audience would
necessarily care, but to give the music a fighting chance and for it to be
fairly judged on its own merit we wanted to keep ourselves anonymous so that
people could come to the music organically. It was nice because people would
care less about us and more about the music, which is the point. Also now that
it’s coming out, no one’s really making a big deal about the Neon Gold thing at
all which is fantastic and this duo can be seen as it was intended to be.
As you’re starting to
play live and do interviews now are you apprehensive about that secretive
aspect of the band disappearing?
I think we’re excited about it. We’ve come up with something that we’re really
proud of. For so long we didn’t perform, so it’s really exciting to be out
there, meeting people and seeing face-to-face how people are responding to it.
The anonymous mystery it wasn’t intentional, like marketing or kitsch or
anything. It served its purpose because people were able to connect with the
music first. So now that that first level of involvement has been achieved, Max
and I are now excited to step into the limelight a little bit, introduce
ourselves, allow people to get to know us a little bit and see how that informs
I think you’re right
that holding back on who was making the music was a good way to get people
intrigued but also to make sure that interest was placed squarely on the music.
Is that your intention with the way you’re releasing your EP as well? By
releasing each track one by one, are you hoping that people take them time to
digest each song before moving on to the next?
Yes, absolutely. And I think that because the EP has so many different elements
to it; there’s a video, there’s a remix, there are samples so that people can
create their own remixes, and we want each song to come with a whole package so
that people have lots of different ways to explore it. Our faces aren’t in most
of the videos until the last one, so again we want the music to standalone and
to provide lots of different perspectives with it as well.
With each post on the Tumblr and all of the things surrounding it, we like the
idea of allowing a week for people to digest and focus on each track. And
there’s so much collaborative work with other artists that there’s a certain
element of respect that needs to be allowed, like all of the elements of the
tracks such as all of the photos in the video which need time to breathe so
that they can be shared.
You’re the first band
to release new material via Tumblr in this way, and your page has been pretty
instrumental in getting the band name and music known. Do you think that Tumblr
is best new way for bands to communicate their message and with their fans now?
I don’t think it’s necessarily the best way and I think it depends on the
artist. Now that there are so many different media outlets and platforms for
people to share, distribute and connect with an audience, I think it’s
important to find which one connects with your personality and you’re aesthetic
and vibe as a band. For us, that was Tumblr because it’s visually-based and has
a young usability. So it was the right platform for us. It’s a great way for
bands to put things out there but I’m sure that there are millions of other
ways to newly share and distribute music.
For us, it’s also about the community. We love the exchange culture of Tumblr
and the feedback that you can get from it. So again, it made a lot of sense for
us. Part of the point of putting it out there was that we wanted to show that
there are alternative ways to use music now and alternative ways to interact as
The visual side of
your work is clearly very important for you...
Definitely! We’re sort of visually-anal [laughs].
Are you planning to
incorporate those visuals when you play live?
It’s funny; we haven’t actually added a highly stylised visual element to the
show, but I think that in the same way that we let the music speak for itself
without us putting our faces out there, I would like to, as it stands right
now, it’s about you getting to know us and hearing the music for the first time
in a live setting. I like that it isn’t too dressed up and it doesn’t need the
distraction of being an overproduced set visually, but it doesn’t mean that Max
and I don’t have those aspirations further down the line. We’re constantly
talking about things that we want to incorporate into the live show later on.
But I think that at this level it’s not really appropriate. It just feels
better for it to be about you getting to see and interact with us for the first
time, to focus on the music and hopefully hear some new material.
How would you
describe the things that you post on your Tumblr page? I think it’s kind of
kitsch and creepy but in a really good way!
Aww, that’s very kind of you to say! [Laughs].
It is incredibly
stylised though. You’ve managed to curate a very defined aesthetic for
yourselves. How would you describe it?
It’s funny... I don’t think I can actually think of a word that really draws it
all together. What I can say, is that when we’re going through stuff and
pulling images we never think, “Well today we’re looking for this particular
thing, or that particular thing.”We
just sort of see whatever it is we come across. Honestly, we don’t over-think
it. If we initially like something we post it and eventually all of the images
started coming together and creating their own narrative. But there are things
that we’re continuously drawn to.
There’s a sort of glamorous, grunginess to it – like chandeliers with cobwebs,
things like that, y’know?
Kitsch, ‘90s references are fun too. But other things just like frames, or
colours that are being used... I don’t know. That’s why it’s fun being able to
share the Tumblr because it’s like an insight into so many pieces of our
personality which I think is that the site should be used for.
It comes across like
a mix of inspiration and reflections of what you’re creating yourselves.
Absolutely, I like that. It definitely feels like a representation and a source
of inspiration. It’s a combination of the two.
Do you have any
favourite pages or stuff that you’re constantly checking out?
Originally there was this Tumblr, but I think it closed down about a year ago,
it was called Kitty Radio and I was absolutely obsessed with it! I would check
it several times a day. Unfortunately it doesn’t exist anymore, or maybe it’s
under a different name. But I have, like, a sixty-page Tumblr list of things
that I need to check out. I mean, it’s really obsessive!
So away from the
computer screen and out in real life, how are you feeling about your upcoming
shows in Europe?
We are really excited. It’s our first time in Europe to perform. We played at
Bestival recently. It was really fun, really great. It was an awesome stage and
we had a really responsive crowd. Plus it wasn’t raining! We’ve been getting a
lot of good feedback from the UK so it’s really nice to be here, to start
meeting people and feeling it out over here.
For me, it’s all the more special because I was actually born and raised in
London, so the shows [in London] feel
like my first hometown shows. I feel quite emotional about it because I’ve
always dreamed of playing live in London and the way that playing in your home
city means more than anything else. It’s been unbelievable. Not just London,
but whole of the UK has been such a huge inspiration for us, in terms of
musical influences and the musical acts that we draw from. We always wanted to
make sure that we came to the UK early on and gave it as much attention as we
do the US.
We’re on tour with Grouplove in October and November, and we’re also going on
our own European tour over the next couple of weeks.
As well as your
touring schedule and the official release of your EP in October, what can we
expect from MS MR in the near future?
We want to do more official videos, either for one of the songs that has
already been released or some new material. We definitely want to do some more
mixtapes and lots more shows. Max and I have some things up our sleeves that
we’re excited to eventually get out there.
Eventually we will finish an album so at some point next year we will be
releasing that as well.
But in the mean time there will certainly be other things to tide people over.
And Tumblr of course!
Finally, who are your
You have to ask us that! I love it!
Oh my god...
Typical us; we get asked a question like that and we have six answers.
Umm... Oh man, we draw from so many different people.
I have a lot of personal heroes and people I admire. I adore Shirley Manson. I
love Gwen Stefani. Also, Patsy Cline, which seems really leftfield but I
absolutely adore her and her career.
We both love Florence and the Machine’s music; it’s a huge inspiration to us. I
have a real big soft spot in my heart for pure pop artists like Robyn and
That’s quite an
eclectic mix - just like everything MS MR do.
You know how I love Michael Jackson, right? Well I've turned my obsession into a professional endeavour and am now pouring all of my fanatical impulses into writing for ICONIC (an amazing Michael Jackson magazine which I have previously recommended).
The latest issue, which is all about Bad and celebrating the album's 25th anniversary, is out now.
You should pick it up for the pompous title of one of my articles alone: “And the whole
world has to answer right now... Who’s bad?”The Cultural
Ramifications of Michael Jackson’s Bad. The article itself is good. I promise.