Dangerous – Michael Jackson

Release Year: 1991

Rating: 8.5/10

There’s no question whether or not Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Bad are amazing albums. The former is still the best selling album of all time. Many people have come close to beating the record, but no one has done it yet. Even though his follow up, Dangerous, was another top seller, it doesn’t seem to get as much attention as the previous two. There could be several reasons for this: plastic surgery, drugs, and allegations the media chose to focus on. The album represents an era of change for the singer. He experimented with a new sound and took on themes that went beyond gushy love songs.

At the time, this album was unlike any Jackson had done before. One of the biggest changes is the prominence of New Jack Swing sound on just about all of the songs. This can be heard on tracks “Can’t Let Her Get Away,” “Jam,” and “She Drives Me Wild.” Elements of pop still exist, but there’s also a heavy influence of funk, rap, and R&B. Jackson further expanded his rap influences by having Heavy D and Wrex N Effect do a verse on a few songs. This sound, while can be dated at times, gives the music a more aggressive, harder hitting vibe than before. It even changed his vocals a bit which were in a lower register and sounded harsher than on past releases. With this album, Jackson also takes on more mature themes.

Jackson’s music has always had messages about changing the world through peace and love, but here he tackles heavier issues like societal ills and racism. “Why You Wanna Trip On Me?” is two-fold; it’s aimed at critics who are obsessed with the singer’s personal life, but also wonders why they aren’t focusing on bigger problems at hand like the homeless or disease. “Jam” also finds Jackson lamenting the world’s problems and how being good to one another seems to be disappearing. But the song where these themes ring out the most is the ballad “Heal the World.” The somber track has a simple message: make the world a better place for our children. He even drives the point home with samples of kids playing and singing the hook at the end. It’s a thoughtful song and one of Jackson’s greatest ballads that still rings true today.

Jackson addresses racial issues on the infectious and popular “Black or White.” The single finds the pop icon delving into rock again with Slash doing the opening riff even though he’s credited with playing on the entire song. Either way, the guitar on this track is killer. As soon as you hear it, it makes you want to bust out your best air guitar moves. Jackson sings sweetly about equality and how the color of your skin doesn’t matter. It’s not until the hard hitting bridge that his anger comes out. The song does a 180 and gets aggressive with Jackson yelling “I ain’t ‘fraid of no sheets.” Then there’s the rap by one of his producers, which is kind of cheesy and dated, but forgivable since the rest of the song is so good. It’s an amazing song that addresses racial issues without beating listeners over the head with its message.

Just like his other releases, this album is made up of successful and classic Jackson hits. “In the Closet” finds the singer being more sexual as he talks about lovers keeping their relationship secret. The music has a cool, slinky groove and he sings in a hushed manner amping up the sexual nature of the song. It’s still weird to think of him as a sexual person, but the song proves irresistible especially when he sings “She wants to get it/aw, she wants to get it.” “Remember the Time” is a slick, exotic sounding track where Jackson sounds playful as he reflects on a relationship. It’s more in line with his pop nature, but still has the New Jack Swing influence all over it. Just like most of his songs, it’s catchy, great to dance to, and fun. A standout single from the album.

Give In To Me” and “Who is It” are the most underrated singles to come from the record. The former finds the singer hooking up with Slash for a rock ballad. Jackson’s vocals come off as more aggressive and fiery, while the sad droning guitar riff sways listeners. It’s often been compared to “Dirty Diana” with its rock feel and subject matter. The two do have seductive vibes with the blazing guitar riffs, but the singer seems more somber on this track. He also takes the rock sound further offering up some diversity on the primarily New Jack Swing album. With the latter song, there’s something cool and sleek about it.

Who Is It” opens with eerie singing denoting something epic followed by a thudding, booming bass that hits you right in the gut. Jackson’s singing sounds more emotional as his start/stop style makes it seem like he was in the middle of crying. Though it’s been compared to “Billie Jean” for its woman-done-him-wrong subject, it’s a stellar song that explores the singer’s darker side.

It wouldn’t be a Michael Jackson album without ballads and there are a good handful here. The best out of the bunch is the beautiful and heartfelt “Will You Be There?” With the soft music and the choir humming at the beginning, it sounds like a religious hymn as Jackson sings about finding someone or something to lean on and make him stronger. The bridge seems tied to the singer’s personal life as he sings “Everyone’s Taking Control Of Me/Seems That The World’s/Got A Role For Me/I’m So Confused/Will You Show To Me.” At the end, the choir makes a return completing the religious feel as Jackson adlibs sounding like he’s going to church. It’s one of those songs with the ability to make you cry if played at the right moment.

While the other ballads are good, they don’t compare to this one. “Keep the Faith” is actually the most dated and weakest song the album. The music makes it sound like a dated gospel track. The music is so obviously 90s ensuring the song hasn’t aged well. And if you’re not a fan of gospel music the song won’t be all that appealing. The message is thoughtful, but it’s the most forgettable track on the record. “Gone too Soon” is a heartbreaking track dedicated to Jackson’s friend Ryan White, who was ostracized at a young age due to his AIDS diagnosis. He later died at the age of 18. It’s a simple, bare bones song with Jackson’s soft singing and light music. But the song is only harder to listen to now since it can be easily applied to the singer’s death. Usher actually sang the tune at Jackson’s memorial and broke out in tears. Even though it’s beautiful, it can be hard to hear.

The album closes with “Dangerous” another underrated track from Jackson’s catalog. Similar to other songs, it represents a new sound for the singer. It begins with mechanical noises before the punchy upbeat music comes on. The entire track is slick especially with Jackson singing in a lower register to complete the seductive mood going on. The vibe is perfect since it feels like the music actually has an air of danger to it. It’s one of his most proactive songs and a stand out from an already stellar album.

Dangerous represents a new era for Michael Jackson. He not only experimented with different sounds to fit with the trend of the time, he tackled heavier themes such as racism. The New Jack Swing sound is dated at times but otherwise shows Jackson was ahead of the curve. This album is another hit in Jackson’s catalog, yet doesn’t receive as much praise as his other work. The record isn’t flawless and some of the songs run together, but it’s still has songs that are now considered classics. It shows a different side of the singer, one that was more aggressive and harsh. No matter how you see it, the album is another stand out hit for Jackson.

Above – Mad Season

Release Year: 1995

Rating: 8.5/10

Sometimes an artist gets the urge to do something different that doesn’t necessarily fit in with their established work. This is where side bands come in. Some are amazing. Others are questionable. Layne Staley and members of Pearl Jam and Screaming Trees felt the urge and formed the supergroup Mad Season in 1994. Supergroups pose their own problems, like sounding too much like their main bands. Mad Season ensured this wasn’t an issue with their stellar, diverse debut album Above.

What makes this album remarkable during an era where grunge infiltrated everything is its diversity. Some results are better than others, but this project allowed everyone involved to play with different genres. We hear this right from the beginning with “Wake Up.” It starts with a low, muted bass like its rumbling in your stomach. The rest of the music slowly builds up with a jazzy vibe. As the song gets more intense, the guitar grows bluesy, especially the solo that adds fire to the song. Layne’s vocals are outstanding here. He switches between a haunting croon to intense screaming. Surprisingly, the result is beautiful.

River of Deceit” has a country/folk sound with the prominent acoustic guitar taking over the track. The song is mellow with Layne singing sweetly, but it has some dark connotations. One of the heaviest lines is “My pain is self chosen,” which can be linked to his struggle with drugs. The song is inspired by his personal life and The Prophet by Khalil Graban. It shows how fragile Layne could be at times. “Long Gone Day” is one of the odder moments on the album. The opening bongos, twinkling music, and occasional saxophone makes it sound like a lounge song from the 70s. As the song goes on, the band continues to mix different genres and sounds making it hard to pinpoint. It’s unexpected, even on this album, but it stands out from the other tracks for an unexpected, great song.

The band may play around with sound on the album, but there are more straightforward rock tracks as well. Several of the songs stem from psychedelic rock, like the smug “I’m Above.” Everything here is louder, heavier, and more intense than the previous songs. The most notable element is the thick guitar riff reminiscent of Black Sabbath. “Lifeless Dead” has a similar mood with dirty fuzzy guitars blasting throughout the song. Again, it has that 70’s rock vibe; everything is bigger and better. The dizzying “I Don’t Know Anything” follows a similar vibe as the aforementioned tracks. What makes this song different from the others are Layne’s trance-like vocals and the mechanical pounding near the end. All of these songs are heavy and aggressive enough to fit in on an Alice in Chains record. It serves as a break from the experimentation on the record. It also lets listeners know there were no plans for abandoning their roots.

The last two songs, “November Hotel” and “All Alone,” are atmospheric experiences. The former is completely instrumental. It has soft, mellow music with thumping percussion adding a rumbling beat. This is broken up with ambient noises that sound like a cold wind blowing. Midway through everything explodes and turns into a psychedelic jam session. It constantly shifts moods and sounds before coming back to its mellow music. It’s a strange musical roller coaster. “All Alone” has very few vocals and what sounds like a pulsing organ. The light, ethereal structure of the song and Layne crooning “We’re all alone” makes it sound like an otherworldly hymn. It’s a fitting, yet somber way to end the album.

Above is a great record because of its diversity. These are all musicians known for their work in grunge music. This band gave them the opportunity to go outside of their comfort zone and do something else. And it showed they could do more than play fuzzy guitars and scream. The integration of blues, jazz, and psychedelic rock make for an album that’s exciting, but mellow. There are times when they let aggression through, but for the most part, it’s a slower, emotional record. Staley also shows immense talent both as a songwriter and a vocalist. Though his work has seen more appreciation over the years, he still seems to be overshadowed by a certain grunge artist. The album is a gem from the 90s you should check out, especially if you’re an Alice in Chains fan.

“Bang Bang” – Green Day

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 10/10

Green Day’s later releases have not been received all that well. Though 21st Century Breakdown was another critical smash, it gained a negative reputation in the fan community. Many critics and fans didn’t care for their 2012 Trilogy, which was ambitious, but flawed. So with the announcement of a new Green Day song, I was kind of underwhelmed. Yes, I was excited for new Green Day music, but I’ve been disappointed in the past. I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high. When “Bang Bang” dropped, I shut my fucking mouth and rocked on.

Let me just say: the song is awesome. It begins with a sweet bass riff from Mike Dirnt that chugs along, implying the danger that’s about to happen. The guitar lulls underneath it, leaving listeners anticipating the moment when everything’s unleashed. From there, the music explodes in a mass of frantic guitars and pounding drums. Though the riff sounds like “St. Jimmy” in parts, it still has an aggressive edge to it that denotes the song is about to kick ass. It’s loud and in your face, which is what the band does best. Things slow down a bit for the bridge; the music plays with tension – the air of danger comes back in. It’s not long til everything explodes again and chaos ensues.

The lyrics are some of Billie’s best. Rather than revisiting days of youth, he focuses on the here and now. Taken from the perspective of a mass shooter, the lyrics talk about finding fame through means of violence, which America has many. It’s not as catchy as some of their other hooks, but it’s so satisfying. The song has cheeky lines like “give me death or give me head” and “daddy’s little psycho and mommy’s little soldier.” And the way Billie spits out “Bang bang!” during the hook is so deliciously on edge. There are some fun “hurrahs” thrown in and Billie lets out the most vicious scream during the bridge when he sings “World war zero!” It’s like the band are determined to kick ass and speak up once again.

It’s fiery, energetic as hell, and gets your heart pumping for more. It has the snotty attitude of old school Green Day mixed with the ambition of the later era, giving us the best of both worlds. And it is awesome. The last time I was this excited about new Green Day was “Know Your Enemy” and “Bang Bang” is ten times better than that. This is a song that makes you excited for the new album and what this next era of Green Day has in store. If the rest of the songs on Revolution Radio are as good or better than this one, it could be their next huge album.

 

Playlist: Going to the Movies

It’s the last month of summer, so it’s time to get in as much chill time on the beach or in the A/C as you can. Summer doesn’t only mean hot sun, parties, and swimming. It’s also the season for blockbuster movies. This got me thinking about movie themes, which aren’t a big trend in movies anymore. Some are powerful others are cheesy making the point to tell you the plot of the movie in three minutes. It seems the 80s had the best and biggest movie themes out there, but there are too many to keep track of. So, let’s look at some notable movie themes and make summer last a little longer.

“Lose Yourself” theme from 8 Mile (Eminem)

Eminem was already an international superstar by the time 8 Mile dropped, but this song put him over the top. It was the hottest song of 2002 and one you couldn’t escape from. It even earned Eminem an Oscar win to the surprise of everyone including the rapper himself. Em has a lot of hit songs, but the drive, aggression, and persevering message of this single connected with fans all over the world. The song was so overplayed it grew sickening whenever you heard it. But now that it’s not blasting on the radio every five minutes, it’s easier to sit back and appreciate the track. Over ten years later, it remains one of Em’s strongest and successful singles. Didn’t hurt that the movie was actually good either.

“Ghostbusters” theme from Ghostbusters (Ray Parker Jr.)

Movie theme songs have the tendency to be cheesy with this being the ultimate example. It may be full of 80s cheese, but that’s what makes the song so lovable. From the wonky synth to Parker Jr.’s smug “I ain’t afraid of no ghost” it’s a track that’s a lot of fun, which is why it fits perfectly with the movie. Everything about it is memorable, especially the tagline “Who ya gonna call?/Ghostbusters!” It may be corny, but at least it isn’t the hellish spawn that is the rebooted theme song. Believe it or not, Huey Lewis sued Parker Jr. and claimed he stole the melody from his track “I Want a New Drug.” The two are surprisingly similar; the matter was later settled out of court.

“Stayin Alive” theme from Saturday Night Fever (Bees Gees)

If you were asked to pick one song to represent the disco fever days of the 70s, it would be this Bee Gees hit. It has an unmistakable riff and Barry Gibb’s unique falsetto vocals. Whether you genuinely like the song or think it’s beyond corny, you have to admit there’s so much swagger in the opening riff. You can’t help but feel like a boss when strutting to this tune. The Bee Gees actually had several hit songs from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, including “Night Fever,” “How Deep is Your Love,” and “Jive Talking,” but it’s this track that’s their most notable. Now, if you could only get the image of John Travolta dancing out of your head whenever it plays.

“I Will Always Love You” theme from The Bodyguard (Whitney Houston)

This song was originally written by Dolly Parton in 1974 but didn’t gain massive notoriety until Whitney Houston performed the song for The Bodyguard soundtrack. The song turned out to be a perfect match for Houston’s haunting, beautiful vocals. And the part when the beat drops and she belts out that one note near the end still gives you chills. The single is still considered the singer’s signature song and many have forgotten Parton as the originator. Sure, the movie was shit, but it at least gave us this timeless song.

“Footloose” theme from Footloose (Kenny Loggins)

This is another song filled with 80s cheese, but it has a hook that’s hard to resist. The song, from the cheesy 80s film of the same name, ended up being Kenny Loggins’ most recognizable song, which is tough considering he released the equally popular “Danger Zone” for Top Gun. With its stark synth and memorable guitar riff it’s a track that’ll get you dancing even if you don’t want to. Guess that’s why it was a perfect fit for the movie. The tune was later covered by Blake Shelton for the laughable 2011 remake. Footloose may be a corny movie, but I’ll watch Kevin Bacon herkin’ and jerkin’ any day rather than the unnecessary remake.

“9 to 5” theme from 9 to 5 (Dolly Parton)

This song is from the successful film of the same name, which stars Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lilly Tomlin as three women sick of their dead-end jobs and getting even with their boss. The song follows a similar suit; it’s about someone getting ready for a job they hate and barely making it on minimum wage. It’s one of those songs everyone can relate to, especially women with the line about not getting a raise. It speaks to people forced to work at jobs they hate with people they can’t stand on a wage that’s barely keeping them afloat. It’s hard to stay down about your job when you hear Parton’s jolly vocals on this upbeat country pop tune.

Pet Semetary from Pet Sematary (The Ramones)

Who would’ve thought The Ramones recorded a movie theme? Stephen King is a big Ramones fan and he asked the band to be a part of the soundtrack. Story goes, he handed a copy of the Pet Semetary book to Dee Ramone, who took it and came back with lyrics an hour later. The song has several references to the movie, particularly the hook of “I don’t wanna be buried/in a pet sematary/I don’t want to live my life/again.” It’s a fun, somewhat spooky song, but not everyone was a fan. It received a Razzie nomination for Worst Original song in 1989. Despite this, the single turned out to be one of The Ramones’ biggest radio hits and help cement their crowns as punk rock kings.

“The Power of Love” theme from Back to the Future (Huey Lewis & The News)

Huey Lewis & The News actually recorded two songs for the Back to the Future soundtrack, but this one is the most memorable. It’s not one of those songs that describe the events of the movie. Rather it’s about how love is a powerful and awesome force that makes people do different things. Written specifically for the movie, it appears near the beginning when Marty skateboards to school. It’s a bright, upbeat track with an unmistakable synth riff you still can’t get out of your head. The song turned into another hit single for the band and even earned them an Oscar nomination. They lost of Lionel Riche’s “Say You, Say Me.” “Back in Time,” the second song the band wrote for the movie, is more related to the film but isn’t as catchy or memorable.

“Who’s That Girl?” theme from Who’s That Girl? (Madonna)

Madonna has given us terrible movies over the years, but they’ve at least produced hit singles. Though what is arguably the best Madonna song, “Get into the Groove” can be considered the theme for Desperately Seeking Susan, it wasn’t featured on the film’s soundtrack. This song was recorded for Madonna’s 1987 film of the same name. And yes, it’s fucking terrible. But the song is another party anthem for the singer. Using latin influences, she creates an irresistible groove. She even lays down the hook in decent Spanish, a culture she’s always admired. The reviews on the song were mixed, but it ended up being her sixth single to top the Billboard charts. It’s not her best so, but it’s fun and puts you in a good mood.

“Eye of the Tiger” theme from Rocky III (Survivor)

One of the most bad ass movie theme songs, “Eye of the Tiger” is made to pump you up and make you feel like you can do anything. It has that iconic shuffling riff and the hook that’s somehow stayed relevant for the past 34 years. Rocky himself Sylvester Stallone approached the band to write a theme for the movie after Queen denied use of “Another One Bites the Dust.” I love that song, but seriously? The disco groove doesn’t fit the story of a boxer trying to keep his glory. Since its release, this song can be found in training montages everywhere. It’s almost as popular as the Rocky theme. The next time you need a pep, put on this song and achieve greatness. Or at least try to get off the couch.

“My Heart Will Go On” theme from Titanic (Celine Dion)

I’m sorry, I had to do it! Yes, it’s that song no one could escape in the late 90s. Titanic was a huge movie upon release and this song overshadowed everything. Every time those opening notes fluttered people either turned up the volume or rolled their eyes. It hit number one across the world and subsequently became a hit for Celine Dion. It’s still regarded as one of her most successful songs. This song was everywhere and by the end of 1997, everyone was sick of it. Revisiting the track, it’s actually quite beautiful. Sure, it’s sappy as hell, but Dion’s voice is what makes it powerful and alive. Now that it’s not playing on the radio every single second, it’s not that bad. Though it does bring up questions about the whole Titanic phenomenon, like why turned a tragic event into a love story?

“Weird Science” theme from Weird Science (Oingo Boingo)

They just don’t make movie themes like this anymore. Performed by Oingo Boingo, featuring Danny Elfman, it’s one of the best and oddest themes from the 80s. Nothing in the film made sense and neither does this song, which is why it’s perfect. The music is blaring, a mix of rock, synth, and dance and Elfman’s vocals make him sound like a mad scientist. The lyrics recall using “voodoo dolls” and “electricity” to make the creation come alive like the boys did in the movie. It’s a fun, offbeat theme that brings on flashbacks of the movie. The song was also used as the theme for the Weird Science TV show. Wait, there was a show? Oh no.

“Don’t You (Forget About Me)” theme from The Breakfast Club (Simple Minds)

Arguably Simple Minds’ biggest hit, this song earned its place in movie and music history by being the opening and closing theme for the iconic film The Breakfast Club. As soon as you hear the refrain of “Hey, hey, hey, hey!” an image of John Bender pumping his fist in the air springs to mind. It’s impossible to hear this song and not think of the John Hughes movie. The song was written by Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff and Simple Minds weren’t their first choice for singers. They offered the song to Annie Lennox, The Fixx, and The Pretenders who all turned it down. They eventually settled on Simple Minds, who needed some convincing since they didn’t want to perform songs they didn’t write. While the song is now considered a classic, the band still aren’t too keen on it. Vocalist Jim Kerr previously said he wanted to vomit every time he played it. Ouch.

“Maniac” theme from Flashdance (Michael Sembello)

Okay, so technically “What a Feeling…Flashdance” by Irene Cara is the theme for this 80s flick, but this song is more memorable. The song is best remembered for the montage sequence from the movie where Alex (Jennifer Beals) is training in the warehouse. The song has a simple, yet unforgettable hook along with an opening synth that’s so satisfying and memorable. The song was included on the Flashdance soundtrack accidentally. Sembello’s wife accidentally included it on a tape sent to executives at Paramount Pictures, who were looking for music at the time. The song also lives on in infamy since many believed it was originally written for the 1980 horror flick Maniac and Sembello changed the lyrics for its inclusion on Flashdance. Unfortunately, this is nothing but a myth.

There are way too many movie themes to include here, so which ones did I miss? What is your favorite movie theme? Let me know in the comments!

We Don’t Need to Whisper – Angels & Airwaves

Release Year: 2006

Rating: 7/10

Being a Blink-182 fan since Enema of the State, there’s no question I was heartbroken about the band’s 2005 breakup. But each member would continue making their own music. Me being the supportive fan cheered for Mark, Tom, and Travis even if they were doing things separately. Though I was a fan of +44, I never got into Angels & Airwaves. I loved the debut single, but after that, I grew disinterested. With the recent Blink-182 drama, it made me think back to the initial break up and when I actually listened to AvA. So I decided to give their debut album another shot to see if my opinion of the band changed.

When AvA first debuted, I never believed Tom’s claims about the band changing the face of rock music or starting a revolution. But I still gave it a chance since he was my favorite Blink member. I never really got into the entire album, but I loved the first single “The Adventure.” It’s a song I haven’t listened to in recent years, but revisiting it I discovered I still actually like it. It’s catchy, upbeat, and has a cool spacey guitar riff reminiscent of The Cure. The mechanical noises in the background even sound like early Depeche Mode. It also has a positive message about no matter how much pain you’re in everything will be fine in the end. It’s one of the strongest songs on the album and the most interesting.

Another surprisingly strong track is “The War.” What makes this song so refreshing is the energy behind it. As soon as the track opens with thudding percussion and somewhat corny handclaps it grabs your attention, something most of the other songs fail to do. The music, which features DeLonge’s classic guitar playing, is more intense and aggressive. It wakes listeners up after so many mellow, slower moving songs. I also didn’t mind “The Gift.” It’s pretty catchy, the music perks you up, and it’s pretty engaging even if Tom’s singing isn’t the best here.

Aside from these songs, the rest of the album is just okay. Songs like “Distraction,” “Do it For Me Now,” and “A Little’s Enough” don’t really have anything notable about them. I didn’t find them exciting, energetic, or upbeat. A lot of them were too slow for my taste and grew old really fast. A big part of is is AvA is more prog rock, a genre I’m not heavily into. While I didn’t think the songs were terrible, I could only stomach them for a little while. There’s just nothing drastically unique about these songs. Very little about the album is memorable aside from the one song I knew about before I listened to it.

The most I can say is a handful of songs have positive messages. Though it’s kind of cheesy “Good Day” is exactly what the title says, finding the good in everyday life while “Start the Machine” is about leaving a city in flames and discovering a utopia. There are also several songs looking at the bad battles can bring like “The War.” It’s fine that DeLonge wanted to expand his horizons and tackle different subjects, but they’re not the best written songs. Rather he sounds like a high school student who’s too optimistic about changing the world. Then again he never was the strongest songwriter. It’s clear DeLonge has larger than life ambitions as he shows with these songs and it’s great that he wanted to pen them. Even if you don’t like the songs, you can admire them for the issues they try to discuss.

So do I hate the album? Not really, but it’s not something I would listen to whole again. While there are a few interesting songs most of the album was just okay to me. Some of the songs were too slow for my taste while others were so easy to forget. It’s not a record that holds my attention for very long. After listening to it once I was bored with it and didn’t want to hear it again. But that’s just me. I’m just not an AvA fan. And it has nothing to do with DeLonge’s involvement with recent Blink drama. It just wasn’t my style.