In Part One, we reviewed three Wham! albums, released between the years 1982 and 1986.
Part Two looked at the beginning of George Michael’s solo career, three albums (and an EP) released between the years 1987-1996.
Since then (15 years ago, for those keeping score), George has released two studio albums (one of which is a covers album) and two double-disc hits packages. What the hell, man? This is a Dr. Dre-esque release schedule, which makes you consider if you should ever expect albums to come from potheads in a timely fashion (although Snoop takes that hypothesis and smashes it to bits).
About a year following Older‘s release, George was arrested in a California park for waving his willy at an undercover cop. That event made George something of a laughing stock in the press, yes, but it also freed him a bit. He finally admitted publicly that he was gay (not that he really should’ve felt it necessary to do so) and was also free to discuss the personal struggles that plagued him following the massive success of Faith (his episode of VH-1’s Behind the Music is essential.) Although I’m a little disappointed with the fact that, like many other artists that come out publicly, he became Uber-Homo after the restroom incident, he’s continued to make somewhat interesting music in between getting cited and arrested for basically being a very rich, talented and famous version of the wino/crackhead on the corner. Here’s a look at GM’s work post-Older.
Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael (1997)– Can a two-disc set by essential and incomplete at the same time? Leave it to George Michael. This compilation is missing any Wham! material (other than the indispensable “Careless Whisper”) and it also admits “I Want Your Sex” (in a bait and switch that still makes me furious, they use Part 2 of “I Want Your Sex”-a trick that gets repeated on Twenty-Five). Almost as if to make up for it, there’s a wealth of rare and new material. “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and “Too Funky” (both U.S. Top Ten hits) make it onto a George Michael album for the first time, as does the Jam/Lewis single mix of “Monkey”. There’s also a stunning cover of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (of millions of remakes of this song, George comes in second behind Bonnie Raitt’s original), a kicking remix of Older’s “Star People” that interpolates The Gap Band’s “Burn Rubber”, a cover of “Desafinado” that was originally featured on the “Red Hot & Rio” compilation, the “meh” completely new song “Outside” and a wealth of other material. Oh yeah, and there’s also the hits. Almost forgot about those!
Songs from the Last Century (1999)– George hit the American songbook before it became en vogue on this end-of-millennium effort, which paired George with legendary producer Phil Ramone. In addition to the usual set of standards (“Wild is the Wind”, a fantastic version of “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” and a gender-flipped version of “My Baby Just Cares for Me”), George tackles two more recent songs: a reconfigured version of The Police’s “Roxanne” and a fairly similar-to-the-original take on “Miss Sarajevo”, which was a minor hit for U2 (recording as Passengers) and Luciano Pavarotti. It’s certainly not essential, but it’s one of the few standards albums that I think is worth a listen. It certainly showcases what a great vocalist and interpreter George is. Going further with this concept may have revitalized his career in the U.S. (especially if this album had come out just two or three years later), but I’m also glad left this concept alone after just the one album.
Patience (2004)– For George’s third solo album of original material, he found himself back at Sony, the company he’d sued in order to get out of his record contract and lampooned in the “Fastlove” video. Strange set of circumstances, but the reunion was a fairly happy one…Patience topped charts around the world and sold close to 400,000 units in the U.S. (a market that all but abandoned George post-Faith). Qualitatively, it’s a bit of a disappointment, however. George switches between morose ballads and Pet Shop Boys-esque dance jams, and there are very few songs that stand out. First single “Amazing” found George at his most melodic (and should have been a huge hit), and his tributes to loves departed (“Please Send Me Someone to Love (Anselmo’s Song)”) and current (“American Angel”) are touching. However, most of the rest of the album is forgettable. I bought this as an import (it came out in the U.K. a good two or three months before it’s U.S. release) and remember being profoundly disappointed. Only time that’s ever happened with a George Michael album (although to be fair, it’s not like I’ve had a lot of chances to be disappointed).
Twenty-Five (2008)- George celebrates a quarter century of hitmaking by trotting out yet another double-disc compilation. Difference between this and Ladies & Gentlemen? The arrival of a handful of Wham! tracks, a couple of singles from Patience, a completely unnecessary cover of “Feeling Good” ( a song that needs to be taken out back and shot, thanks to “American Idol”), the formerly banished-in-the-U.S. cover of Stevie Wonder’s “As” with Mary J. Blige (which Blige’s label refused to allow to be released in America when it was originally recorded) and one measly new song, the decent but entirely forgettable “An Easier Affair”. A Wham! compilation (which can be easily obtained via iTunes or Amazon-if you want a physical copy) and a quick download of “As” can take care of any lingering needs you may have here. Otherwise, Ladies & Gentlemen is the better compilation. This just seemed like a case of “George is touring so we need something on the market ASAP”. Definitely not essential.
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