It's a bit easy to
forget how huge George Michael was in the mid-80s with two decades in which
he has been most in the public eye for unfortunate hairstyles,
record-label lawsuits, self-parodying television appearances on long-forgotten series like Eli
Stone and drug-possession and men's room indecency arrests. Also,
in the two-plus decades since this album was released, Michael has only
recorded four albums of original material - one of those an all-covers album
- as well as two hits compilations.
However in 1987, for
white-hot pop-culture moment, Michael was arguably the
biggest pop star in the world. And listening to the newly remastered
re-release of Faith with 24
years of hindsight, it is still easy to see why he became so big.
ended up spawning an astonishing six top ten singles (second
at the time only to Michael Jackson's Thriller, which had seven)
including four number ones.
Not that Michael came
from nowhere, he had been the main songwriter and lead singer of popular
British duo Wham! (known as Wham! UK in their homeland). In the
band, Michael was the voice behind such singles as "Wake Me Up Before You
Go-Go," "Careless Whisper," "Freedom," "Everything She Wants" and "Last
Christmas." In fact Michael was arguably the entirety of the band - no
one ever ever knew for sure what bandmate Andrew Ridgeley added to the mix.
He wasn't even
completely unknown as a solo artist. The year before he'd topped the
charts with his Roy Orbison-referencing solo single "A Different Corner"
(which, honestly sounded musically so much like "Blue Bayou" that it tread
the fuzzy line between tribute and plagiarism.) Also, arguably Wham's
biggest single "Careless Whisper" was actually a Michael solo single
in his native Britain
that was released in the US as being recorded by Wham! featuring George
was Michael's artistic statement of independence and as such was a complete
success - commercially, but also artistically.
The most impressive
part of Faith's palette is how varied it is. Michael was able
to take dance beats, quiet storm r&b, cocktail jazz and rockabilly to make a
wondrous state of the musical art for 1987. From the church organ and
Bo Diddley beats of the title track to the breathtaking balladry of "Father
Figure" and "One More Try" to the more adventurous, hard-hitting rock and
soul of "Hard Day" and "Look At Your Hands," Michael hits on all cylinders.
"Kissing A Fool" is
just a stunningly gorgeous old school-heartbreak cocktail torch ballad, touching and sad
and timeless enough that it sounds like it might have been recorded in the
1940s as well as the 80s -
and just safe enough that years later it would be covered by Michael Bublé.
Most of the songs
hold this agelessness. While many of Faith's contemporary
albums feel straight-jacketed by mid-80s synth beats, most of these songs
feel wonderfully current to this day. In fact, songs from this album
have been covered by a musically diverse group of artists from cocktail jazz
crooner Bublé to soul sisters Divine to nu-metal rockers Limp Bizkit.
Ironically, the song
that has probably aged the worst is "I Want Your Sex (Parts 1 & 2)" the
original centerpiece of the album, the first single (actually it was
released before the album). While the song is fine, it is the song
that feels most bound to its time - and of course the "naughty" lyrics now
feel a tiny bit desperate to make a splash as Michael was cutting his ties
with Wham!. That said, the album closer "A Last Request (I Want Your
Sex Part 3)" is a truly stunning piece of quiet storm seduction.
The second disk in
this special edition - made up of b-sides, remixes and instrumental versions
- is mostly pretty inessential listening. Of the three non-album
tracks, "Fantasy" is a fine-but-inconsequential dance jam, and "I Believe
When I Fall In Love" and "Love Is In Need of Love Today" are both pretty
enough live ballads. None of the remixes really outdoes the original
album mixes and the instrumentals are only really necessary if you're
planning a karaoke party.
However, if the
extras are pretty disposable, the actual
Faith album is pretty close to flawless and absolutely necessary for
any musical collection in which 80s music matters.
Soon enough George
Michael would be slipping into the Roman Gladiator hairstyle and depressive
musical mood of Listen Without Prejudice, but Faith is a
foolproof reminder that when he was on his game, George Michael was as
flawless a composer of popular music as there comes.
Jay S. Jacobs
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All rights reserved.
Posted: February 5, 2011.