“HEAL THE WORLD, MAKE IT A BETTER PLACE, FOR YOU AND FOR ME. AND THE ENTIRE HUMAN RACE, THERE ARE PEOPLE DYING, IF YOU CARE ENOUGH FOR THE LIVING, MAKE A BETTER PLACE FOR YOU AND FOR ME.” Heal The World – Michael Jackson
Dangerous was released in November of 1991, and was something of a departure from his three previous albums, all of which were Quincy Jones’ productions. Michael Jackson attempts to embrace the newly emerging sounds of hiphop, but merges it with traditional soul, r & b, gospel, and even his Motown past. This is quite effective, as Dangerous holds up as one of Jackson’s very best records. His main producer, Teddy Riley, using this New Jack Swing (in part, a hybrid of hip hop, rap, and funk) idiom, really brings out the best in ‘The King of Pop.’
Whereas Off The Wall was a mature expression of disco, Dangerous explores original hybrids of soul, hip hop, and even gospel. Michael is not afraid to say what is on his mind, and expresses anger, faith, love, and heartache on this very graphic album. I actually prefer it over his previous solo releases, and believe the songs are of better quality over those on Thriller and Bad. There is more variety, more honesty, and more depth of expression; sadly enough, this is the time when Michael is starting to show scars from some brutal ‘critics.’
This ‘public humiliation’ affected me much in my perception of his art. This just deepens the tragedy all the more. His achievements on Dangerous were quite significant, but it took his death to bring me to the sanity of listening carefully. Objectivity is required before one can recognize the gains, the contributions he brings to the music. All of us should put the videos aside, and simply evaluate the songs and the production attributes of the tracks. In the long run, I believe that Dangerous will outsell all of his other records. In this review, I will simply give treatment to ten songs, and let you know what they did for me, how he explores these new forms, and what meaning I can glean from it.
Jam, the opener on Dangerous, is a funk hip hop song about trying to unify people in order to work out our world problems. “Nation to nation, all the world must get together; face the problems that we see. Then maybe somehow we can work it out.” With an electronic drum track that is mixed up front, the presence of co-producer, Teddy Riley, is made known with his New Jack Swing style. The video features Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls teaching Michael Jackson basketball and learning some dance steps himself from the pro. But no visual aids are required; Jam will punch out of your boom box with a bullet!
Why You Wanna Trip On Me is in the funk hip hop style too, and poses the question of why do people want to dwell on Michael to an extreme when the world is so messed up and needs our help. “We’ve got more problems than we’ll ever need. You got gang violence and bloodshed on the street. You got homeless people with no food to eat, with no clothes on their backs, and no shoes for their feet.” Michael has an effective message here, if people would channel their energies to help those in need, instead of dwelling needlessly on the pop star (MJ), then maybe we could make inroads to a nicer world.
In The Closet starts out more as a talky rap thing with a pounding drum machine, then it synchs into the melody of a very cool chorus. “Because there’s something about you baby, that makes me want to give it to you.” This is the first time I’ve seen MJ be so open about sexual desires. He talks out this part: “One thing in life you must understand. The truth of lust woman to man. So open the door and you will see. There are no secrets, make your move, set me free.” This is Barry White-esque! The ‘keeping it in the closet’ thing here is a hetero twist on this phrase. This may yet contribute more subterfuge and mystique in terms of evaluating MJ’s sexual temperament.
Remember The Time is a catchy, soulful number from some type of unidentifiable genre-the electronic drum beat is pulled up in the mix (Teddy Riley’s influence) – it seems disco in places or soul/pop, or is it r & b? It’s just very crossover, a hybrid of sorts, yet very modern, with lush harmonies, and lyrics that reminisce of such oh so pleasant moments of romance. “Do you remember the time when we fell in love? Do you remember the time when we first met?” I need to see the video with Eddie Murphy some time, with an Egyptian setting. Nonetheless, an amazing track that holds up on its own.
Can’t Let Her Get Away is about desire, possession, and the message is wrapped up in a very big beat; partially disco, and partially hip hop-it dwells securely in both worlds. There’s some scratchin’ in there too. Keyboards and synthesizers provide timely staccato accents, and the vocals are buried underneath the rhythm tracks and bottom end. An unusual and emboldened mix, I must say. Also, all the rules of a conventional arrangement are broken here, but it works. Teddy Riley’s fingerprints are all over this track.
Heal The World is a convincing anthem to this recurring theme (of MJ) of a need to be responsible, and to try to improve the world that we live in. After all, there are people suffering all around us. The music itself is quite beautiful and really pulls on your heartstrings. This is a kind of idealism that we have not seen since the 1960s; the civil rights movement comes to mind. I would term the style as high-pop, with dreamy harmonies, and the presence of an orchestra accenting the choir of inspirational singers. The chorus is repeated at the ending with two key changes and a choir of voices builds to a dramatic crescendo.
I love the cover art, by Mark Ryden, but do not know what all of the images could possibly portray. Michael’s eyes are behind a carnival mask and there are a number of diorama-looking sets assembled about his masked visage. There is a dog dressed up like a king, there’s the head of Bubbles his pet monkey, and that’s P.T. Barnum with Tom Thumb near the bottom center. There’s a globe, a girl with an animal skull, and several golden Indian statues in each of the diorama scenes. Maybe this is what Neverland Ranch would occasionally look like; things are make-believe; symbolism prevails with an iron glove. Actually, the less you know, the better off you are, with this over-the-top, theatrical Dada design of Mark Ryden!
Black Or White is the hardest rocking song on the album, and features Slash from Guns N’ Roses on a scorching guitar lick. The message is that the color of your skin does not matter when this guy is trying to protect his girl. The best lines for me are: “I am tired of this devil, I am tired of this stuff, I am tired of this business, so when the going gets rough. I ain’t scared of your brother, I ain’t scared of no sheets, I ain’t scared of nobody when the goin’ gets rough.” That may be a reference to the Ku Klux Klan? Anyway, the hooks and the message are rock solid in this song; when it comes to love, race doesn’t even matter!
Will You Be There, entirely written by Michael Jackson, is a moving spiritual that seems to be carved out of the pages of the Old Testament. Almost as an answer to I’ll Be There, now Michael needs people to be there for him and comfort him. A choir of angels sends you into the spheres as Michael contemplates his dilemma, just as Romeo does after visiting Juliet in her Veronian boudoir.
Two clever, whispery talk verses are inserted at the end, giving it just the right dramatic touch. This is prayer in song. “In our darkest hour, in my deepest despair, will you still care? Will you be there?” People (the media) were starting to mess with Michael at this time (1991). He is hurting in this song; his forthrightness is welcome. Eighteen years before his death the wolves were already after him. In hindsight, this hurts. This is the best song on Dangerous, and one of the best efforts of his career.
Keep The Faith is a slow, inspiring soul song that encourages you to keep a good attitude and then your dreams will come true. The lyrics are like a proper sermon on Sunday by a spirited preacher, trying to uplift his congregation to meet the challenges that life proposes. Michael sings it with passion and sincerity, he really belts it out with fire, and the graceful background vocals give it a wisp of gospel that’s quite invigorating. Splendid lyrics too! “Sail across the water/float across the sky, high/any road that you take/will get you there/if you only try.” Also, there is a line “keep your eyes on the prize” that is another apparent reference to the civil rights movement.
Gone Too Soon (music by Larry Grossman, lyrics by Buz Koman) is a gentle, sentimental pop tune that reminds me of some of the classic compositions of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The smooth as silk vocal of Michael perfectly enunciates the marvelous metaphors, penned by Buz Koman. “Like a comet blazing ‘cross the evening sky, gone too soon. Like a rainbow fading in the twinkling of an eye, gone too soon.” The arrangement, with strings and electric keyboards, is quite lush. This one seems to touch on his Motown past; I could easily see Diana Ross singing this one. Too, the message comes home and saddens you.
There is a stillness in the air, a funereal presence. I know if I turn on the TV the harpies will rant and rave again. I am a little disappointed in myself too, for not being more respectful in the past of Michael’s beautiful songs. In those days (1980s and 1990s) peer pressures and the poison from the well (the media) prevented me from seeing the quality of Michael Jackson’s art. Objectivity arrives only after death; this is both an enigma and a mournful theorem. Set aside the dance, the drugs, and the merry-go-round of Neverland; simply hear the songs.
Dangerous is a groundbreaking record in many ways. In terms of crossover, honest lyrics, breathtaking performances, and amazing arrangements, it is unparalleled. Two songs, Will You Be There and Gone Too Soon, are surely his best ones ever!
I’m certain that each and every one of you will be reviewing his catalog with all of your faculties, both analytical and aesthetic; new appraisals will occur through a synthesis of opinion and a hard-earned consensus of millions. We will finally see, after many years of metamorphosis, just how this album fits into the wider spectrum of things (if you will, the galaxy of Pop Idols)?
I believe that, after the passing of much precious time, the judgment of history will decree that Dangerous was MJ’s absolute apotheosis; In your presence I humbly pronounce myself ahead of the curve.