Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Michael Jackson can't win. Stuck forever with the hopeless task of topping the best-selling album of all time, he came as close as anyone had a right to expect with Bad, the number two album of the '80s. But imagewise Bad was just some strange superflop, because it followed Thriller, the soundtrack to his coming-of-age. You only get one of those, and if any record ever passes Thriller on its way to 50 million worldwide, it'll be somebody else's.

So here comes Dangerous (Epic), 14 songs and 77 minutes worth of intensely ambitious popwork. Coproduced by new jack swinger Teddy Riley, the first half is all rhythm, the specialty of the world's greatest dancer since he went solo in 1979. The second half, dominated by tortured ballads, is mostly Michael. Despite a few icky social-consciousness lyrics, this is original stuff--the new jack trickier than anything Riley's done on his own, the ballads bringing Michael's personal terrors ever closer to the surface. Yet the buzz is that this starstruck miracle of medical science is repeating himself. Out of it. Over.

Commercially, one never knows, but musically, it's hogwash. In the Closet is Michael's most convincing sex song, and the breakup triptych that follows could actually have happened. Though the new jack could be catchier, that's just his instinct for the rhythmic edge. The slow ones have tunes, and even when the gasps slip into self-parody he's some singer. So if you're bored with Michael a priori anyway, well, that's your privilege--not his fault.

Fast Cuts: Guitar Paradise of East Africa (Earthworks): from Kenya and environs, dance-pop catchier than C + C Music Company. New Edition's Greatest Hits (MCA): for those who believe Michael never surpassed ABC.

Playboy, Dec. 1991

Nov. 1991 Jan. 1992