Dangerous was Michael Jackson's true career high

The Dangerous album may have coincided with some unfortunate allegations, but Jackson displays an emotional honesty he would never find again

Michael Jackson's Dangerous was the first album I ever owned, a cassette copy that I pored over like the Rosetta Stone. What was that dog in ermine robes about? Was In the Closet about literally keeping something in a closet? All that was certain was that Macaulay Culkin, in being allowed a spoken-word intro to Black Or White, as well as starring in Home Alone 2, was the luckiest kid alive.

Looking at the sales figures, it's clear that everyone's currently on a Jacko reappreciation binge. My own has inevitably (and nostalgically) honed in on Dangerous, and one thing is objectively clear: this album rules.

As its initial release dovetailed with the Jordan Chandler allegations, the album is now falling neatly into an accepted narrative – that it's part of Jackson's decline, both artistically and personally. The reality is that Dangerous is Jackson at the very peak of his powers, with his widest ever emotional range set to production that makes new jack swing seem much more than just lame dance moves and fluorescent man-made fibres.

Produced mostly by Teddy Riley, the tracks are fiendishly intricate, loaded with scratching, multiple layers of drum programming, and shiny smashes of hyper-artificial brass. In its mechanic complexity and tautly funky precision, it mirrors and amplifies Jackson's corporeal and vocal exactitude; it also reflects Jackson's fascination with the robotic that imperceptibly crept into his dance moves and continued in his Moonwalker film.

Jackson, meanwhile, is revelatory. On Remember the Time, he is soft and teasing, ruthlessly manipulating his former paramour, before unleashing ferocious passion at the climax. Indeed, Dangerous is the only album on which he sounds believably erotic, all strained frustration and full-throated entreaties; Riley extracts a sexual urgency that the Neptunes would later draw from Justin Timberlake. Meanwhile on the baked-Camembert ballads Heal the World and Will You Be There, he's charmingly innocent, and sings simple, effortless melodies.

And while Quincy Jones once allegedly shouted, "No squeaks, motherfucker!" during the recording of Thriller, here Jackson is off the leash, brilliantly weaving his vocal tics into the fabric of Riley's production. On Who Is It, he elicits a gulping sob that syncs exactly with the beat – surely the funkiest crying ever recorded?

In all the swooning at Thriller's album sales and Jackson's pre-surgery beatitude, Dangerous risks becoming even more underrated than it is now. That would be a tragedy – for me, it's his finest hour. Does anyone else agree?


Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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