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Thursday, January 19, 2012

George Michael, "Faith"

George Michael
Columbia (1987)

1001 Recordings You Must Hear Before You Die

Hypothetically, George Michael came to a realization in 1986. At the age of 23, Michael was half of the British pop act Wham!, a sensation amongst teenage girls. However, as a virulent young man, Michael perhaps desired the affections of someone (Michael is openly gay now, but during the '80s he dated women. I don't know who these songs were aimed at, so I'm going to play it gender neutral) a bit older than his teenage audience. Again, this is entirely hypothetical, but probably more or less correct. Therefore his solo debut, "Faith," proved a sharp contrast to the "bubblegum-pop" of Wham!

Michael made the point clear (and obvious) when selecting the first single from the album. That single was the first half of the two-part track "I Want Your Sex." The bluntly-titled song operates on basic animal instinct, but is actually much more sensitive than most modern pop. The controversy and censorship it inspired is almost humorous now, considering that its most obscene line is "I want your sex." In fact, the track takes time to promote monogamy, stating "sex is best when it's one-on-one" and Michael writing the word "monogamy" on a woman's back with lipstick during the music video. In all honesty, "Sex" is far from Michael's best work, but this single drew a line in the sand for separating him from his work with Wham!, and is therefore most relevant.

"Faith" also demonstrated that Michael's preferred genre was R&B, even if he didn't want to settle down in any particular nook within the genre. "Sex" was a funk-based approach, but much of the album resembled the "Quiet Storm" movement, typified by artists like Anita Baker. These tracks, like "Father Figure," feature understated instrumentals and smooth vocals. Michael's singing is as smooth as any, but he paints a sheen of sex appeal on every song with his breathy delivery (a method Britney Spears abuses today). His employment of quiet storm varies from bass-laden love makers like "Hard Day" to slow ballads such as "One More Try." The title track is a piece of pop that evokes another Michael, Michael Jackson.

One thing that Michael does not get enough credit for is his involvement in the instrumental aspect of his music, a fact that sets him apart from many pop stars. In the modern age of electronic-beats, musicianship is hardly necessary, but even during the '80s, backup bands played the instruments. Although Michael did not play every instrument featured on the album, he did write all of the music and record on guitar, piano, bass and drums. The biggest dance song on the album, "Monkey," features instrumentation entirely performed by Michael. His involvement reflects a passion (pun somewhat intended) that is unfortunately lacking today.

If you read the segment on Anita Baker, you'll know that I have qualms with the quiet storm scene. "Faith" is a much improved take on the R&B sub-genre however.

INTERESTING FACT: "Faith" was the first album by a white, solo artist to get the no. 1 spot on the Billboard R&B charts. No Michael Jackson jokes, please.

Father Figure (Album Version) by George Michael on Grooveshark

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