Despite having kinda-sorta grown up during his heydey, I was – for the most part – unaware of Michael Jackson’s existence aside from knowing he was the kid in the Jackson 5 and the dude who’s hair caught fire (I have a very clear memory of being near the snack-food aisle at a local grocery store once when one of his songs started playing and my mom stopped to tell me the story of how it happened). Uh, anyway.
I had a friend in grade school, let’s call her Val, with whom I would listen to Michael Jackson’s Bad on her (in retrospect) comically-large boombox and dance around her parents’ living room. Not the Moonwalk, per se, just wild flailing of arms and so forth. I remember attempting a handstand in that living room once, to the detriment of a low-hanging chandelier. You get the picture.
Val really liked this song. We’d often listen to it, press the Rewind button (aw, kids! Remember rewind buttons? Of course not) and listen to it again, dancing and listening and flailing all the while.
“Smooth Criminal” / Michael Jackson (1987)
Fast-forward (kids, they had fast-forward buttons, too!) to my first summer home from college. I was making some mad money at a local fast-food place, where the radio in the back was always cranked to the local Top 40 station (this, kids, is also before Top 40 was 95% rap and R&B – can you believe it? Instead, we listened to a genre known as “Alternative Rock.” Google it sometime).
Imagine the slow awakening of a long-forgotten memory when I heard Alien Ant Farm’s “Smooth Criminal.” Wait, is this? … This is… What the — ? Is it?…
Holy crap! It was that song!
“Smooth Criminal” / Alien Ant Farm (2001)
At the time, I (gasp!) liked AAF’s version better. Maybe it was because I had no choice; I heard it no less than 8,938 times a week that summer. But as I listen to each version now, I dig the original much more. I don’t really get anything out of Version 2.0. It’s just like a harder, karaoke version of the song. A post-er (poster?) to the Allmusic site writes “The perverse nature of [Jackson’s] ‘Smooth Criminal’ is no doubt interesting — it’s the musicality that makes it special,” and I agree. I mean – the song is twisted. Why are we listening to a song about a violent home invasion? More importantly, why are we singing along to a song about a violent home invasion? The Original makes me ask these questions. The remake does not.
Nice effort, Ant Farm, but in the grand scheme of things, you’re just kind of phoning it in. MJ is one of the kings of making us feel what he’s singing, even if it’s a little bit disgusted.