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George Michael ( and WHAM )

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    George Michael ( and WHAM )

    listen without prejudice faith patience fantastic older

    Fantastic 4 ( 1983 )
    Bad Boys / Ray Of Sunshine / Love Machine / Wham Rap / Club Tropicana / Nothing Looks The Same In The Light / Come On / Young Guns

    Twenty four years old now this debut album by George Michael's Wham. It sounds like it too, but more of that later. I'm reviewing this with an open mind, by the way. I used to like the Wham singles when I was, er, nine years old. That was 1983, by the way, the year of release. Those were the days, Top Of The Pops was always an interesting and often hilarious vision. Now, even though it may seem otherwise, i'm not doing this site merely to slag off pop music in its varying forms. The Wham singles, at the time, were a breath of fresh air. Nothing deep, just fun, sunshine filled melodies. Oh, what was Andrew Ridgelys contribution, exactly? I know he played guitar, not that you can hear much guitar here. He co-wrote many of the songs, presumably giving George the more fun-filled lyrics present. George being all brooding and that. Yeah, even back then. For those that when 'Faith' came out expressed surprise, listen to a song here like 'Nothing Looks The Same In The Light'. It's the same, boring slow faux-soul type tune he always does. Even the typically Wham sound of 'A Ray Of Sunshine' isn't a million miles removed from some of his more upbeat, recent hits. One question, what were they thinking doing 'Love Machine'? It sounds terrible, although the near-falsetto vocals are impressive, I suppose. The backing vocals, even though they are presumably black soul singers by the sounds of it, comes across akin to The Weather Girls, 'It's Raining Men'. I especially dislike the 'ooooh hoo hooo yeah!' parts. Then again, being a former bedsite Morrissey type music fan, I probably would.

    Now, now, before you all go up in arms, take a look at my CD List or top 100 albums list. Hopefully a little variety for you there, although not any George Michael albums in the top 100 so far, tellingly. So, what's the point of me reviewing these albums if i've already decided I don't like them in advance? Well, firstly, I haven't done so. I always review things i've never heard before, after the usual half a dozen or more listens. What I mean is, at the time of writing, i've not heard 'Make It Big', or 'Faith', etc, etc, beyond the radio hits. I have those still to come and who knows, something may change my mind. Four singles are present on this eight track album. Wham never really were acclaimed as an albums act, although during the eighties, almost every other person in the UK seemed to have at least one of the two Wham albums proper on Cassette. Showing my age, you remember albums on tape? Having to re-wind and forward and the thing inevitably getting chewed up at some stage years later? Stick to vinyl? Some people still do. Not me! I'm no luddite. I've even progressed to MP3, having initially rejected CDs for some 12 years after their first release, preferring the then warmer sounds of vinyl. Why am I digressing so much? Well, 'Wham Rap' is on at the moment. Funky plastic bass lines, those bloody trumpets. Something to dance to? Maybe. When drunk at 80s disco's Wham always went down well. Now the world seemingly plunges ever further away from those naive days, what with wars every other week and global warming, those fun filled, tropical Wham songs and videos seem somewhat indulgent.

    'Club Tropicana' which almost everybody in the world will already know quite well, is easily the best song here, especially the jazzy little piano lines. What do Wham sound like though, assuming you've been deaf most of your life? Well, the dreadful 'Come On!' is a good example, sadly, of their sound. Fake, level-42 styled 'dink, dink, dink' bass lines played far too busily. Soft, fairly soulful, although ultimately, undistinctive and safe vocals. Little guitar lines apeing the funk bass lines, so much so, you can't make out the guitar apart from the bass, so it may as well not be there. Parping keyboards apeing brass instruments. Sounds dreadful doesn't it? Well, when we get a song like 'Club Tropicana' this plastic sound works, because the song is just such innocent fun. Things like 'Bad Boys' and 'Wham Rap' were very much style over substance and remain so. The closing tune, another hit, 'Young Guns' is full of attempted drama, yet who believes in this day and age that George Michael is some kind of swaggering, slightly dangerous ladies man? See, times have indeed changed and it's to the detriment of albums like this. It's now a four, maybe it was a seven had I reviewed it in 1983. No higher than that, because I was just starting to get into XTC and The Mighty Wah.

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    Make It Big 3 ( 1984 )
    Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go / Everything She Wants / Heartbeat / Like a Baby / Freedom / If You Were There / Credit Card Baby / Careless Whisper

    Yes, there is a song here called 'Credit Card Baby'. Just be thankful you don't have to listen to it, all five minutes of it. It's a song that begins kind of Motown, obviously an influence on George. The lyrics at best though are non-descript, at worse, downright clumsy and irritating, kind of like Stock, Aitken and Waterman several years too early. The chorus, you can have my credit card baby has to go down as one of the worst in living memory. This isn't even good enough to be b-side material, surely? 'Like A Baby' is the kind of George Michael tasteful ballad that could have been released at anytime between 2007 and 1983. Artistic development? Contrary to popular belief, I'm not yet convinced George Michael does, or ever did, know the meaning of the word. On the singles front this time out, we get the harmless 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go', an irrepressible album opener. 'Everything She Wants' is one of the better Wham songs, a finely constructed and memorable composition, yet at six minutes it's far too stretched out. 'Freedom' is another song that nods towards Motown, this time a bit of a footstomper, yet the superflous guitar typical of Wham songs manages to irritate and the chorus becomes a little repetitive.

    The closing 'Careless Whisper' was a song co-written by Ridgely, released as a George Michael solo single and then placed on the Wham album? All slightly strange. It's this song the pundits look back at saying, hey, George was progressing! Only he wasn't, this was a song written when the two guys were both seventeen years old, or something. Impressive if you think of it that way, yet without the stench of the 80s disco nostalgia factor, the song remains dreadfully overbearingly too long without respite. Is it romantic? Well, some people think so. Who am I to disagree? Well, the lyrics are too simple, his voice lacks enough emotion and without the chorus the song would have sunk. The chorus rescues the song and the video and emotions presented and remembered.... somebody will 'Add Their Thoughts' telling me i'm talking crap. Then again, I prefer to listen to my music rather than dance to it. Dance music, as drum 'n' bass and techno have proved, don't make for good listening. 'Careless Whisper' is dance music then? Well, of course not. Yet, without the whole superficial romantic paintings people like to whack on top of the song, it wouldn't exist. As for 'Make It Big', I prefer 'Fantastic'. It's more fun.

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    Faith 6 ( 1987 )
    Faith / Father Figure / I Want Your Sex (Parts 1 & 2) / One More Try / Hard Day / Hand to Mouth / Look at Your Hands / Monkey / Kissing a Fool

    The image surrounding George and the Faith album was that of one of the guys. A lover, a soul brother, a rocker and a sensitive balladeer. The ripped jeans and all of that. It was all style and with the massive success that 'Faith' brought him, it was almost like we were gonna have another major worldwide superstar aka Michael Jackson or Madonna. It didn't quite work out like that for George in the long-run, but that's another story and shall be told another time. Flicking through the reviews on the net and some of the original critical reception, it seems that nobody has to bad word to say about this album. A mature pop/rock masterpiece, most of them would have us believe. Those 10 million plus who bought it at the time are also unlikely to have much too bad to say about it, it encapsulated a particular era and that kind of thing is hard to do and will always have fans defending such a release. I'm not going to tear this apart or anything and if I was, I certainly wouldn't be doing it for the sake of it. I'm genuinely not like that. It's just that some sacred cows are sacred cows for reasons other than the songs and the performances. It would be a fool today that would suggest that the 'immature' Wham were in fact better than the 'mature' George Michael, because such a person is going against a tide the strength of the American war machine. No, we have to meekly accept such musical givens, even listening again and again and again just to convince ourselves. All that kind of thing? Well, to quote 'Father Ted', down with this sort of thing.

    Two of the first three songs were singles. 'Faith' was the one we remember, a simple little rock'n'roll kind of guitar riff and an impressive enough vocal. 'I Want Your Sex' was more of a statement than a song and the nine minute long album version is far too self-indulgent. Thankfully, the gem that is 'One More Try' follows, George's finest moment upto this point in time. A simple track with a solitary organ, booming drums and a real, gospel tinged vocal that's also disarmingly soft and vunerable in places. It's this kind of track that makes the career of George Michael all the more frustrating, because when he's sensible and puts his mind to it, he's clearly capable of good things. As if to prove Michael's inconsistency though, 'Hard Day' is a hideous semi-funk workout that sounds very dated and irritates both musically and vocally, neither aspect quite fitting in together. 'Monkey', was this a single? It sounds like a bad Wham tune. The second half of the album in general tails off badly, but for 'Kissing A Fool', a jazzy piano number that proves that when George plays it straight and lets his vocals do the talking, he's absolutely fine. A lovely little tune. As for the album, it's far too inconsistent, admittedly shows a good range of variety, yet doesn't have enough about it for me, just for me, to be any kind of classic.

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    Listen Without Prejudice 8 ( 1990 )
    Praying For Time / Freedom! '90 / They Won't Go When I Go / Something To Save / Cowboys And Angels / Waiting For That Day / Mothers Pride / Heal The Pain / Soul Free / Waiting (Reprise)

    I always thought the lead single 'Praying For Time' was the main reason this album didn't sell as much as 'Faith'. What I would have done had old George asked my advice would have been to start the album with something like 'Cowboys And Angels', then go into 'Freedom! 90', then probably find no place for the dirge like John Lennon impersonation that is 'Praying For Time'. We assume George wanted this record to be a serious artistic statement. Opening with 'Cowboys And Angels' would see the album opening with a deceptive little piano solo before moving onto the seven minute, impressively jazzy, impressive vocally 'Cowboys And Angels'. It's a great song and performance and one that is timeless, eg, not giving into fads. It's also not too dour yet opens the album artistically. Flowing then into 'Freedom' would be a great release. As it is, mid-way through 'Praying For Time', you're already wanting to turn the album off and 'Freedom' just comes across as trying too hard after 'Praying For Time'. Funny old business album sequencing, isn't it? It's also, since the Sixties, something of a lost art-form. So, other than 'Freedom' and 'Praying For Time', we have 'Heal The Pain' as a single. George on this album seems to have conquered the keyboard syndrome that blighted his albums in the past and dated them. This album, for the most part, features George himself playing guitar, bass, piano. Joining him, well, in this instance we have little hand drums. God, i'm dumb. You know, the ones where you play your hands over them? I could look it up on google, but whatever. You KNOW what I mean! 'Heal The Pain' is a nice little unassuming kind of song.

    'They Won't Go When I Go' is sad enough to be a Morrissey tune. Hey! I like the little Piano figures and his vocal with echo adding suitable atmosphere, like he's indeed singing in a church. Is there any funky tunes on this album then apart from 'Freedom'? Well, 'Soul Free' is reasonably funky, and the subtle funky rhythms of 'Waiting For That Day' also pleased when it was released as a single. All in all, i'm going to conclude that 'Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1' is the most consistent George Michael album to date. It was planned he'd release an album every 18 months. He had around 20 songs left off this album. Nothing actually happened. Why was that? I don't have an answer, actually. Sales, presumably coupled with unreasonably high expectations.

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    Readers Comments

    Ed Canada
    Have to say, I think 'Cowboys and Angels' is one of George Michaels' best work. Listen carefully to the tune, it is superbly performed and composed. An excellent combination of jazz, pop, and waltz -- yes, you can waltz to it!

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    Older 4 ( 1996 )
    Jesus to a Child / Fastlove / Older / Spinning the Wheel / It Doesn't Really Matter / The Strangest Thing / To Be Forgiven / Move On / Star People / You Have Been Loved / Free

    Six years elapsed. Britain was in the sway of Britpop. George Michael, free from his record label problems finally returned. Sounding like? Well, much the same as before, really. The opening 'Jesus To A Child' wouldn't have sounded out of place on the previous LP. That it's a fairly smoky, soulful ballad was the plus point. He sounded mature now, as if revealing secrets through his lyrics, finally fed up of just hinting, if you know what I mean. 'Fastlove' even sounded almost like a Wham throwback, were it not for all the sexual hints, absolutely hideous video aside. Do you remember the video? He looked awful, slinking about and posing as if he was some kind of child molester. The naievty of the Wham days were certainly now gone forever, but this was a good spring/summer kind of single. So, George fails to develop, just giving us more funk/soul and more smoky, semi-jazzy ballads like the title track, so smoky I can hardly see it in front of my ears. 'Spinning The Wheel' almost fails to convince and suddenly the album is becoming too one dimensional. That feeling isn't helped by 'It Really Doesn't Matter' being a mid-tempo slumber. George, you need to develop and move on! Why does everything have to be oh, so safe?

    The second half of the album may as well be asleep, or Michael Bolton. It's shopping mall music. All the vocals sound the same, so soft and gentle, yet not revealing any character. He only does that suspiciously, it seems, and rarely. So, the praise I had for 'Jesus To A Child' is now misplaced? Do we want all mid-tempo five/six minute long songs, really? I do feel like giving up on the guy now, because apart from the first two songs on this LP, it may as well not exist. You know, we reach 'Star People' and almost feel like jumping up and down because finally we have a danceable beat, yet the song isn't really about anything anybody really would care about who isn't an anal ( steady! ) George Michael obsessive. 'You Have Been Loved' is another slow number. It's a five minute long whisper about nothing. Much like the majority of this album. Nothing is actively bad, yet singles aside, this is merely ok. He's treading water and it's not good enough.

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    Songs From The Last Century 2 ( 1999 )
    Brother Can You Spare a Dime / Roxanne / You've Changed / My Baby Just Cares for Me / The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face / Miss Sarajevo / I Remember You / Secret Love / Wild Is the Wind / Where or When-It's Alright With Me

    Having, showing, or being in keeping with good taste. Refined and tasteful in appearance or behavior or style. Free from what is tawdry or unbecoming. Having, exhibiting, or conforming to good taste. There are compositions here from Cole Porter, Sting and even U2. He'll be covering The Sex Pistols next, won't he? What next? Well, Instrumental arrangements of popular songs often piped in to an elevator, retail store, bar, cafe, disco, discotheque, dive, hideaway, night spot, nightery, nitery, restaurant, speakeasy, supper club, tavern or watering hole. God, at the end of the otherwise vocally impressive 'Brother Can You Spare A Dime' he struggles to keep going, to hold the note. He starts to lose it, so the song fades out. I must admit his soft jazz re-styling of 'Roxanne' has some merit. Across the albums ten songs, we have piano, guitar, bass, and drums. All playing softly brushed Jazz or slow swing music unlikely to upset anybody rather cold this winter. All Music admit that this album probably isn't a major work, yet also describe it as 'delightful'. Only once on 'My Baby Just Cares For Me' does the tempo rise above a funeral procession. It's the only thing here with anything resembling a pulse. Roberta Flack's 'First Time I Ever Saw Your Face' meanwhile is reduced to a whispy whisper as George tries to get slowly sensual, but Barry White he ain't. The arrangements on the album, generally, are fairly unimaginative, bar the odd thing like 'Roxanne'. He rarely has to stretch himself vocally and when we hear those last few bars of 'Brother Can You Spare A Dime', we know why he sticks to mostly safe, unchallenging arrangements.

    'Miss Sarajevo' fares better than many of the recordings presented here, perhaps partly because it's the most modern composition but also perhaps because his performance is the least mannered of his performances on the LP. It's not much, two tracks that are 'ok' on an album on ten redundant elevator styled, supper-club, safely dull cover versions. I'm not saying for one second he's a bad singer by the way, but this is the type of album we expect from an American Idol/X-Factor artist, not someone like George Michael.

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    Patience 5 ( 2004 )
    Patience [Part I] / Amazing / John and Elvis Are Dead / Cars and Trains / Round Here / Shoot the Dog / My Mother Had a Brother / Flawless (Go to the City) / American Angel / Precious Box / Please Send Me Someone (Anselmo's Song) / Freeek! '04 / Through / Patience [Part II]

    Four albums in fifteen years is hardly prolific by anyone's standards, is it? That's not what i'm here to judge, though. After a covers set, George returns with his first album of original material in eight years. Will there be any changes or developments at all? Well, there are touches here of a more modern r&b sound, but of course, such a development has been put through a George Michael blender, so we still get that distinctive Michael sound, for better or worse. George himself was pretty confident with this set of songs, declaring as much to the press at the time. It's certainly accomplished and the arrangements have been carefully fine-tuned, perhaps too much so, because there is a lack of rough edges as a result. 'Freek!' and 'Shoot The Dog' were both initially released as singles in 2002. By George's standards, the resulting UK numbers seven and twelve peak positions must have been disappointing for him. 'Flawless' and 'Amazing' both went top ten however, 'Amazing' as high as number four. 'Round Here' was the fifth and final single, struggling to a peak of number thirty two. The album itself predictably hit UK number one position, although it's American performance was significantly less. America had long given up on George in fact, ever since 'Listen Without Prejudice', indeed.

    The singles then? 'Shoot The Dog' features an unusually deep voice George Michael vocal wrapped around a Human League sample. A song with unattractive lyrics and no strong kind of chorus, it's no surprise this failed upon release. 'Freek' isn't much better, another attempted r&b stomper as George tries to regain his dancefloor credentials after the lacklustre 'Songs From The Last Century'. It does have a decent, bendy and deep bass line but again, the song itself just isn't memorable enough. 'Amazing' then is a return to more familiar George Michael ballad territory, a soulful gem of a tune that nearly opens like the Casualty TV Theme but ultimately has enough class and sass about it to be the highlight of the LP. 'Flawless' is actually a quite successful stab at the dancefloors, George going for a techno sound. Finally, 'Round Here' is a ballad, another accomplished ballad. Now, overall, this is certainly a pretty consistent LP for George compared to many he's released. It passes by too easily though, it's a bit of a bland, beige wallpaper of an album. A five seems fair enough, not a disaster but not likely to appeal to anyone beyond already existing fans.

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    this page last updated 13/10/08

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