George Michael passed away on December 25th 2016 to add to a year which we have lost so many great musical inspirations. Michael will never been given the kudos that David Bowie and Prince were afford but for me he should be put into that category because not only was he a fantastic singer he was a wonderful songwriter but because of his sexuality and inability to make his feelings known about the media who were reporting on him he was denied his rightful place as one of the best pop stars of all time.
The debut album “Faith” was released in 1987 after he had left the group ‘Wham!’. He knew he needed to try and pull away from the ‘Wham!’ reputation which perhaps unfairly had just been put into the bracket of throwaway 80’s music. After the success of ‘Careless Whisper’ he came back with “Faith” which saw a new musical approach and a new look.
George Michael wrote every song on the album and produced all but one song. He was an all round music artist and his death at only 53 on Christmas Day shocked the world.
The title track “Faith” opens the album. The organ plays at the start to further boost the scale of what we are about to listen to. The guitar kicks in with a rift that I think most people who have heard music will know and Michael comes in with a line sung by many “Well I guess it would be nice..”
The song is about Michael falling for someone but being aware that heartbreak is likely to be the result of such a union and that he needs to wait for something else.
“Father Figure” is about as far removed from a Wham! track as you could get. Atmospheric in it’s instrumentation Michael’s voice is the main element of this popular song.
I’ve always found songs about relationships in comparison to parent like feelings a little uncomfortable. Michael is obviously talking about looking after someone like a father figure but perhaps my own views on relationships cloud my enjoyment of this connection as I think trouble lies ahead when someone is in a relationship to replace that of a parent who for whatever reason have not been able to connect fully in that aspect of their life.
The feel of the set changes significantly with the track “I Want Your Sex Pt 1&2”. This is Michael delving into the book of Prince to deliver a sexuality charged funky frenzy of a track.
Even the way Michael delivers his vocal is seductive as he sings about trying to persuade his partner to stop waiting and actually have sex as he is struggling to wait any longer. He attempts to convince her/him that there is nothing wrong with it and everyone does it.
The lyrics to me are a little tongue in cheek but it’s the instrumentation which gives the song more edge. This is Michael looking into Soul and Funk music and knowing that his voice can be part of this world. The song is an anti pop song so for it to be the first song released from the album was an early indication of how Michael wanted to flow against the grain.
At over 9 minutes long it isn’t exactly radio friendly and it’s lyrics would have more conservative listeners recoiling in horror.
If Michael wanted to crossover to a black crowd then he nails it on “One More Try”. This is a soul/gospel track straight out of the Marvin Gaye songbook. But it is not a copy of anything – it is an original composition which Michael delivers one of the best vocal performances of his career.
The melodic structure of the track mixed with the lyrics really can strike a chord emotionally.
Lyrically this song is brilliant. He puts over the situation perfectly and it will be relateable to many. He is in a relationship with someone that is hurting him with the whole relationship being toxic. The use of the word “teacher” suggest that this person is perhaps older and this relationship may be his first which makes it all the more difficult to leave.
He seems clear in his view that this needs to end but the final line of the song sees him given into his temptation to stay.
There are things
That I still have to learn
But the one thing I have is my pride
Oh so I don’t want to learn
Hold you, touch you
Think that you’re mine
Because there ain’t no joy
For an uptown boy
Who just isn’t willing to try
I’m so cold
Maybe just one more try
I think this song is utterly fantastic.
“Hard Day” is quite dated in it’s production style. That synth-pop sound of the 1980’s doesn’t translate too well in a modern day music setting with drum machine and keyboard playing a prominent part of the song. The bass in the track in a highlight though as Michael keeps the funky theme going.
The song is one I like though. He sounds so comfortable on this track and uses the higher register of his voice in parts of the song with layered harmonies sounding fantastic. He again explores love, lust and relationships with this song being about wanting someone who he clearly admits isn’t even someone he sees as someone to be with in the future.
“Hand To Mouth” musically again doesn’t really date well and for me is one of the less engaging tracks on the project despite having more politically motivated lyrics about the American Dream which is sold to people but when this is denied things can go very wrong.
“Look At Your Hands” is a great track. With an almost country music feel to the instrumentation Michael delivers an angry vocal at this woman who he feels should be with him and he points out just how bad her life is as she is a victim of domestic abuse, she has fat children and he goads her by saying that he bets she doesn’t like her life.
There is no solution from Michael to this woman’s plight only that she leaves her husband and starts a relationship with him. This is a fun track and something more diverse musically on the project.
“Monkey” seems to be a song about addiction. It is about being a relationship with someone who can’t get the “monkey” off their back. He keeps with the synth/funk theme which has been evident throughout a number of a tracks and like the song before this it is sung in a more aggressive way which is something Michael would have in his locker for other tracks in his career.
But then Michael takes things to another level with the final song “Kissing A Fool”. This track changes things up musically with a Jazz influenced pop ballad which many today would expect a Michael Buble character to produce. This song shows a great vocal performance from Michael who shows great tone and control throughout.
George Michael knew that the stigma (which was unfair) of being in Wham! could well hinder any attempts at a solo career but what he did with”Faith” was create a clever selection of pop songs with catchy hooks yet introspective lyrics which would allow him to crossover to a variety of listeners of all ages.
Whilst the production at times may sounds a little dated there are some great songs on this album and whilst I believe his subsequent offerings were much better this was the foundation of his solo career and requires attention.