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It must be hard being a George Michael fan. Patience is only his fourth studio effort in the 18 years since Wham! split, so its release must be some cause for celebration. There always seems to have been something preventing him from releasing a new album--from arrests for lewd behaviour, protracted battles with record companies or prolonged periods of grieving for departed family and friends. Thankfully, Patience is pretty good.
Flitting between fraught ballads and up-tempo adult pop (the misguided sample-laden singles "Freeek!" and "Shoot the Dog" being the unnecessary exceptions), George here returns to the structure and mood of 1990s Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1. Patience is at its most delicate and moving with its title track, the intense, tabloid-attacking "Through" and the painful family memories of "My Mother Had a Brother". To balance this, hearts will be raised by "Amazing", with its echoes of the Bee Gees, "Round Here", in which George remembers his early days scampering around Bushey with Andrew Ridgley, and "Cars and Trains", which celebrates the kind of lifestyle that so riled the LAPD back in 1998. That's the thing about George Michael these days. Love him or loathe him, he is unapologetically himself. And fans should be very grateful for that - Dominic Wills
A grandee of British pop music has resurfaced with his long-awaited new album, and says it will be his last high-profile commercial release. George Michael's solo career has been eventful, and announcing that he's turning his back on the music business continues that headline-making trend.
But new offering Patience, which Michael says nearly killed him, returns to the music with which he made his name.
It starts and ends with the poignant and painful title track, but the middle portion reveals much more variation.
The 40-year-old singer stands by his ill-fated political statement Shoot The Dog and puts the musically punchy and exciting song on this album.
With the Passion furore raging on, asking "if Jesus Christ is alive and well, how come John and Elvis are dead?" on track three may touch nerves.
Michael veers back to the personal with the lush American Angel, apparently an ode to his partner Kenny Goss.
But reminders of the infamous restroom incident come flooding back with the raunchy, sexually provocative Freeek.
A master of the heart-rending ballad, Michael sets a gentle and emotional mood with My Mother Had A Brother and the warmly poignant Through.
He hasn't left his disco sensibilities at the door, though, and a handful of uptempo tracks bring this album to life.
Michael makes The Ones' stomping favourite Flawless his own, but Precious Box is a standout track which is bang up to date.
This is unlike his latest hit Amazing, which sends us hurtling back to the late 80s.
Michael can never be accused of cutting corners, for this is an album which sounds crisp, clean and produced with an
In recent years, pop music has become more unforgiving than ever. Release a flop album or behave in a manner that attracts the opprobrium of the tabloids and, more often than not, that's that. Comebacks are virtually unheard of, while the record-buying public can barely contain its boredom when artists try to prolong their careers by reinventing themselves - as various former Spice Girls would no doubt eagerly attest.
It is a state of affairs that leaves George Michael in a curious position. A lot has happened to him in the eight years - including the death of his mother and an arrest for public indecency - since he last released an album of original material, most of it bad. He has been vilified both for his sexuality and, more recently, for his political views. In addition, his star has waned: neither his collection of jazz standards, Songs From the Last Century, nor the subsequent singles Freeek! and the anti-war Shoot the Dog packed his usual commercial punch. Patience feels like a comeback, which, given the current climate, should seal its fate in the eyes of the record-buying public.
Yet it is not quite as clear-cut as that. His past form suggests Michael is capable of things which other artists simply are not: he remains one of the few stars of the last 20 years to successfully engineer the transformation from teeny idol to "mature" singer-songwriter. Certainly, Michael himself sounds bullishly confident. He recently claimed that Patience will flop only if he "murders someone", and the album certainly comes packed with moments that imply his self-assurance is not misplaced.
Its sound remains largely the same as ever. The man who signified his ascent to maturity via the moody sax solo of Careless Whisper has never really found it necessary to update his vision of how urbane adult pop should sound, and Patience arrives bearing such examples of 1980s musical sophistry as the twang of the fretless bass and sampled choral voices oohing and aahing. Yet the album's sound scarcely seems to matter when the songwriting is strong. My Mother Has a Brother is a remarkable piece of writing, which delves into Michael's family history to reveal a gay uncle who committed suicide around the time the singer was born. Perfectly measured, it never slips into mawkishness; the effect is heart-rending in the extreme. Round Here is a depiction of Michael's childhood, packed with nostalgic detail. Its description of Wham! as "two little Hitlers" might tend towards overegging the pudding - it seems unlikely that he and Andrew Ridgeley ever actually planned to invade Poland - but otherwise it's a superb performance, set to a sublime melody.
However, not everything works so perfectly. There are moments that suggest his loudly trumpeted love of pot may be affecting his artistic judgement. The remake of The One's camp house hit Flawless is fun - but not seven minutes' worth of fun - and there are lyrics that defy rational explication. In John and Elvis Are Dead, an awakening coma victim questions God's existence because some rock stars have died during the 30 years he was asleep. "His words made me cry, I knew exactly what they meant," sings Michael.
An artist who once straight-facedly released an album called Listen Without Prejudice, George Michael is not big on irony, a point underlined by Freeek! and Shoot the Dog, which tie themselves in knots attempting to take a wry view of current events. Michael has said that Freeek! is a song bemoaning internet pornography, but it is hard to detect any satirical intent in its bump-and-grind rhythm and panting vocals; it sounds as if he thinks internet pornography is a splendid idea. Similarly, Shoot the Dog needed a video depicting Tony Blair as Dubya's poodle to make its point. Shorn of the visuals, the song makes no sense: it depicts the emergency services "getting jiggy" after a terrorist attack and suggests that Cherie Blair should "spliff up" and "watch the World Cup".
The fact that Michael has included these two former singles highlights Patience's other big drawback. As has already been noted, a lot has happened to Michael in the last eight years. Patience tries to do too many things at once: express unimaginable personal grief, set the world to rights, snarl at the media, and hymn a new love, Texan boyfriend Kenny Goss. At 70 minutes, Patience is too long. Had Michael lost its weaker moments, its impact would have been greater. Listeners would not find themselves in the uncomfortable position of finding their attention wandering around track 11 - just as Michael launches into Please Send Me Someone, a song about Anselmo Feleppa, a boyfriend who died of an AIDS-related brain haemorrhage.
Perhaps the reasons that pop music seems so unforgiving in 2004 is because audiences have a shorter attention span. That bodes badly for Patience, an album that requires considerable effort. It gives the listener an awful lot to plough through, but anyone willing to persevere will find George Michael's finest work is buried within it.
Iím enjoying George Michael being back in the charts, particularly after hearing his typically bonkers announcement this week that his new album is to be his last. Unfortunately, it isnít for his music, although the current hit, Amazing, is OK, and Patience, his new offering, will probably please his old Eighties fans. My enjoyment doesnít come from his political rants either ó Michael has it in for Bush and Blair, but doesnít everyone these days? Itís not even the stuff about his sex life.
Actually, I can think of more reasons for the 40-year-old Michael to stay in the pop wilderness than to let him back into the limelight, for however short a time.
Thereís his ego ó ďIíve always believed I would outlast everyone, with the possible exception of Madonna,Ē he said recently. How a former boy-band member who had a huge album 16 years ago, the seven million-selling Faith, can put himself on a par with Rod Stewart and Sting makes you wonder just how much spliff heís smoking. Thereís the camp Michael walk ó how did he ever get away with pretending to be straight? The hissy fit when fans didnít like the pompously titled Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 and he sued his record label (and lost) and his friendship with Geri Halliwell. So why cheer his return? For a start, it means lots of clips of Club Tropicana, the only pop video to make package holidays look worse than they are. Best of all, and this is rare for a rich, famous person, Michael has a great sense of humour, in a crazy kind of way.
As for the music, if you can find your copy of Faith, you may as well enjoy it. Which isnít to say itís a return to form. None of the songs are as strong as the ex-Wham! manís early solo singles, nor the best of his boyband days. It does borrow from old hits, however, and it sounds as if it was made at least a decade ago.
The album opens with the title track, a piano number with gentle vocals that reminds you that Michael never was a great singer. For the next 70 minutes the songs switch between slick, slightly funky, midtempo tunes that borrow from his 1990 single Freedom and soul-searching slowies. Amazing is punchy pop with a breezy chorus and uplifting lyrics, primed for remixing. The handclap-backed Round Here is the sort of song models dance to at parties with a glass of champagne in each hand, and the techno-tinged Precious Box treads Faithless territory.
The so-called political song and former flop single Shoot the Dog lays mumbled lyrics and a Maurice Gibb impression over Human Leagueís Love Action; Flawless is Michael singing over the naff electro hit of that name by the Ones.
Lyrically, the slowies are more interesting. John and Elvis are Dead is a post-purple-era Prince-type tune about dead idols; My Mother Had a Brother is an odd, moving family tale; and Through is a moody, strings-accompanied song about his past problems.
As on his mid-1990s album Older, Michael does some growing up, but itís where you least expect it that he comes up with the goods. Cars & Trains is a fantastic track about suicide that will get your toes tapping, and Please Send Me Something is a summery groove with a Latin-lite rhythm. Whatís more, the old single Freeek!, with its dragging bassline and naughty lyrics, sounds much better now than it did when it came out (George is back with his old label Sony).
Patience isnít a great album, but itís a step back in the right direction. You try doing that after a couple of spliffs.
"Patience" is George Michael's first studio album in eight years. It follows "Older," which entered The Billboard 200 at No. 6. Unlike that album, "Patience" arrives without a hot commodity at American radio, as its song "Amazing" failed to clickójust like the bubbly "Outside (from the 1998 set, "Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael," which debuted at No. 24). Still, if history repeats itself, expect a healthy U.S. debut for "Patience." For this primarily lackluster album, Michael splits his time between being self-righteous ("My Mother Had a Brother") and getting down on the dancefloor ("Amazing"). That said, a song like "Precious Box" merges both worlds. "See, everything has changed/ And all this hatred may just make me strong enough," Michael sings on the album's pensive closer, "Through." While this may be, the strongest cuts here are zesty club jams like "Amazing" and "Flawless (Go to the City)." But the downtempo "American Angel" does soothe with heartfelt lyrics and a sparse arrangement.
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