There really was a point in time at which George Michael could do no wrong. What makes his career so notable, in my opinion, are the stylistic leaps he took with each record. You wouldn't know how great a vocalist he is from the first Wham record, but that became clear on Make It Big, where the songcraft took a leap into classic, not throwaway, pop. His first solo album, Faith, fulfilled that promise and made him into a massive star, one who could really sing. Then Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 - at this point, it would be a cliche to ask "Where is Vol. 2?" - launched him into that place where pop music meets art, a la Madonna's Like A Prayer. That album is absolutely perfect and it added a level of introspection and emotion that he'd never displayed before.
Since that time, well, we know what happened. Tearoom trolling, extended pot haze, an almost hermit-like persona. I mean, the man sojourns in Dallas! Not quite Lauryn Hill weirdness, but a waste of talent with just occasional glimmers of past genius in newer recordings. In many ways, he seems far older than his 44 years. The empathetic part of me thinks that George is insecure and never really felt he deserved the success he had, so he did everything he could, including lawsuits, to sabotage it. There is a part of him that seems quite normal and unpolished in interviews.
The last time he toured America was in 1991 for the Cover To Cover tour, which I saw. The show was a celebration of songs he loved: perfectly chosen covers, some obvious (Elton's Sun) and others less obvious (Seal's Killer). I love that George respects other people's music. He is a true music fan and he has impeccable taste in music. 17 years later, George is finally returning to America and... I am so there. All is forgiven and forgotten. He just gave an interview to USA Today where he had this moment of introspection:
'I still have facial hair,' he says. 'My hair is much shorter and browner. And I don't dye it.'
Well, bully for you, Jorge Miguel (as we like to call him). Probably not a factual quote, based on the photo above. I just hope you take the time to meet your opening act on this tour, a measure of respect you did not accord Sophie Ellis Bextor.
Worldwide trolls please note that the new US version of Twenty Five, the hits CD, contains a new recording, a cover of Nina Simone's Feeling Good. I'll do a follow-up post on my favorite songs by George.