By Jéan-Claude Quintyne
Michael Jackson’s Dangerous offers a new perspective on the way he approached crafting his art and using it to comment on the world’s issues and his personal demons during his later years.
What is most troubling though, is that as phenomenal as the work he produced from Dangerous through Invincible is, it was shadowed by the rumors and the negative images of him portrayed by the media.
Taking that into account makes Susan Fast’s Dangerous, the one hundredth volume of Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 series, an exciting and saddening read.
Not only is the book an in depth album review, it’s a thorough examination of the calculated attention Jackson paid in constructing the record. Fast puts front and center the obvious intent of the record, that it is his coming of age album. Not only that, but it is also a piece that shows the world that he was capable of political engagement, adult expression of sexuality, and was very much “interested in his black heritage.”
The book is separated by five chapters, each representing the themed blocks of songs that compose the record: “Noise” which comments on the harsh state of the world, “Desire” which focuses on love and romance, “Utopia” where Fast discusses Jackson’s tackling of systemic racism, “Soul” where Jackson searches for redemption amongst a downward spiral of betrayal and loneliness, and “Coda” which explains how the album’s final song “Dangerous” brings it all full circle.
Fast highlights the way Jackson paid close attention to the record and decided to take risks to capture the audience’s attention. One minute passes on the opening track, “Jam,” before Jackson begins to sing. This is uncommon for a pop song.
She interprets it as him warming up, allowing himself to be “immersed into the groove,” and getting engulfed by it, losing himself in it.
Fast also points out the significance of the sound of breaking glass—the very first sound heard on the record—that symbolizes a response to a world in crisis and serves as a motif that also represents a “sonic enhancement of the self.” It is a device that situates the listener into the narrative of the work.
Jackson’s sexuality has been the target for some of the worst things said about him, which motivated Fast to title the second chapter “Desire.” What is important about this section of the book is its illustration of how Jackson turned his otherwise vague and private sexual life inside out, commenting on this explicitly in the record’s third track, “In the Closet.”
It is the first song on the record that diverts from the “industrial” sound of the previous ones. It’s rhythmically softer, and shows in the video that accompanies it that Jackson knows his way around a woman’s body. This made the claims that he was “asexual” redundant.
The song narrates an affair between two lovers who must keep their rising passion for each other a secret—in the closet. What’s unique about this track, Fast suggests, is its “Eastern” and “exotic” sound.
“Jackson’s melody is formed out of a pentatonic scale … often used in the blues, but here it sounds ‘Eastern’ because of the way it’s heard within the context of the half-step riff,” said Fast.
The most revealing and frightening part the book is the discussion of its cover art, painted by Mark Ryden with input from Jackson.
Not only does the polyptych represent Jackson on a spiritual level, combining his love of animals, appreciation of children, and passion for the circus on a canvas, but it is an abstract representation of his face. It was a transition from the human to the non-human.
Dangerous stands as a magnum opus of risks, unprecedented methods of musical production, combining Hip Hop, Rhythm and Blues, New Jack Swing, Rock, and classical music to demonstrate how incredible Michael Jackson is as an artist and that he is, indeed, dangerous.
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