He's always been a bit of a quandry for people has George Michael. There's no denying the mans almost effortless talent, his ability to carefully craft songs that have become in many ways the soundtrack to millions of peoples lives right across the world. But like all genius's George Michael is flawed and his now infamous episode in a Los Angeles public restroom and his late night run ins with the law or the paparazi on Hampstead Heath recently have become easy tabloid material with which to try and kill off (now they smell blood)a career that at one point seemed unstoppable. It's a shame that a few mishaps have become the things that a lot of people(but not all by any means)will remember George Michael for. But love him or loathe him he is what he is and like it or not, he comfortabley takes his place at the very top of the pile of British recording artist. Becoming the most played artist on British radio in the past 20 years is no accident. He does not and will not pander to the masses, he proved this with his 1990 release, Listen Without Predjudice, which is now rightly held up as a modern classic, a lesson in pop sensibilities if you will.He makes music his way, ya takes it or ya leaves it, if it doesn't chart he doesn't seem to care, a true artist then.
He has written, arranged, produced, and played the bulk of the instruments on this album, Older, like he does on all his albums, not many artist can lay claim to that these days. Quite how he found the time to write such instant classics while he was suing Sony is a mystery, but by golly, you'll be so glad he did.
The album kicks off with possibly the greatest ballad he has ever written-Jesus To A Child. It's slow rythmic and lyrically way beyond anything the average pop or R&B star churns out today. It succeeds so spectacularly because it is so personal,it gives us a window into the sorrow felt at the loss of his lover. Far from a happy song it deals with death,grief,and mourning but with hope too. It may be a slow song dealing with a very personal subject matter but as with all George Michael songs there is a strong melody and some lovely instrumentation. Some would say his finest hour.
This album is a much darker affair than LWP and nothing like FAITH, but he still shows us he's owns a pair of dancing shoes with the wonderful Fastlove, it's the kind of feel good sun's out window down track we all love in the summer time. "In the absence of security, I make my way into the night" and we almost wish we could along too, the accompanying video became an instant smash on MTV with its futuristic and sexy imagery, not to mention George dancing under an over head power shower at the end complete with shades,and looking like he's having the time of his life. A cheeky sample of Patrice Rushen's Forget Me Not's is used in the final third of the track and it works so incredibly well, this was a good few years before Will Smith sampled it on Men In Black, again, as with a lot of his work,George was way ahead of the game here. The other dance track on here is Star People, here we see George having a scornful dig at all those stars desperate for fame and money, "how much is enough?" and "get yourself some Oprah cash" appropriate in this celebrity obsessed age we seem to live in.
One of his biggest hits off this album was Spinning The Wheel, a masterclass in contempory pop, mid-tempo, with an infectious almost hypnotic backing track and George showing off the falsetto range in his diverse voice it's not hard to see why it was such a hit with fans and other music listeners alike. Another strong track here is You Have Been Loved, a touching ballad sang with utter perfection, his phrasing produces an instrument all of its own. "You brushed my eyes with angels wings/Full of love/The kind that makes devil's cry" it's the type of ballad that every pop pretender up to and including Robbie Williams wishes they could write. It's glaringly obvious from this one song alone that when it comes to artist with a true understanding of how to craft a song George is out there on his own. Few (if any) from his generation and certainly none from the generation after have the ability to write a song like You Have Been Loved, it's so good it will go over most peoples heads.
The title track Older is another example of George not writing for mass approval. It's quite a stark but beautiful song about waking up one day and realising you no longer feel the same about your lover, you have changed and they have stood still, "change is a stranger you have yet to know" and "you're out of time, I'm letting go, you'll be fine, that much I know". The production here as with the whole album is straight out of the top drawer, it also has a wonderful trumpet solo that is easy to get lost in.
I won't list and critique every track here for two reasons.
1. It would take too much time.
2. I always like a few surprises when I buy an album.
George Michael shows with this album that he oozes talent with a capital T. You won't be disappointed in purchasing this as it is well worth the money and in not too many years time it will rightly be considered as the best album of the 90s. He advanced in strides on Listen Without Prejudice and here he simply grows more and reminds us all of his greatest asset, his wonderfully versatile voice. Anyone liking adult contempory pop/R&B/Soul/Funk/Jazz will appreciate this album for the music alone, but you also get the added bonus of George Michael being a formidable vocalist.
But don't take my word for it.