George Michael Alan McGee – He is a Pop GeniusWritten by Alan McGee
Barely a week goes by without an album getting the legacy-edition treatment. Usually I'm against the money-grabbing mentality of major labels, but I've been enjoying these reissues. Featuring rare demos, live footage and extra tracks from huge talents like John Martyn, Dennis Wilson and Johnny Cash, they're great historical documents.
What music fan wouldn't want to have the Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison DVD? Who doesn't want to hear an extra 50 Pavement tracks? Exactly. Which brings me to an important question: why is there no legacy edition of George Michael's Faith? Not only was it commercially successful, it also set a template for a solo artist wishing to progress beyond their boyband past (in Michael's case, Wham!).
In retrospect, were Wham! really that bad? Of course they weren't! Which is why Wham! have been making a comeback on the dancefloor recently courtesy of Idjut Boys and Dmitri from Paris.
Solo success beckoned for Michael after he tested the waters with Careless Whisper and Last Christmas, but his masterpiece Faith was still in the offing. Michael's transformation from Wham! to mature solo star paved the way for other frustrated boyband members. And he did it without being tame – his first single I Want Your Sex was banned. Amazing. George Michael was banned for being sexually dangerous. Who would have thought the singer of Wham! would join the exclusive club of the Jesus and Mary Chain, Madonna, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Sex Pistols by getting himself banned? Even though he appeared to soften the controversy – "Hey, it wasn't about promiscuity, but monogamy" – in reality he courted it and I Want Your Sex was a brilliant publicity move to get him out of the boyband ghetto.
The iconic image of George Michael in the Faith video sealed the transformation: he dispensed with dodgy sartorial choices like Choose Life T-shirts and pastel Club Tropicana clothing for three-day-old stubble, sunglasses, acoustic guitar, black leather jacket and Levi's. At the start of Faith's rockabilly riff, it was clear that Michael was now serious business.
Faith (the album) was classic pop. It found Michael moving into Brian Wilson Pet Sounds territory. Seriously – Michael co-produced, wrote all the songs, played most of the instruments and sang backing vocals and harmonies. Faith could have been "pop star ego gone wild" but it wasn't. Instead it became an instant classic, standing alongside other albums released in 1987, namely: Sonic Youth's Sister, the Cure's Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and Prince's Sign o' the Times.
The world was now listening to George Michael the solo star and the entire Faith experience (from tour to album) was immensely successful. The sheer power of Michael's genre-breaking takes the listener through rockabilly (Faith), jazz (Kissing a Fool), and hard funk and R&B (I Want Your Sex). Michael shared his wisdom of the dangers of love and drug addiction with Monkey, even evoking poignant Dylan-like protest with tracks like Hand to Mouth and Look At Your Hands (the latter covered by Joan Baez), which saw him narrating the broken ideals of the American dream and domestic abuse. Nothing could stop him.
The stratospheric rise of Michael from Faith even shocked the singer himself. Ironically, the success of his new Faith persona locked him yet again into the pop-image ghetto (the same one he tried to escape from with Wham!). His follow-up, 1990's Listen Without Prejudice, made a point of obscuring his image and subsequently Michael was penalised by his record company with lack of promotion (Sony wanting a forced return to the Faith-era image). The result? Michael was prompted (like Neil Young and Talk Talk frontman Mark Hollis) to sue his record company and win back his freedom. With Faith Michael destroyed his image as a manufactured pop robot and transformed himself into a reputable artist. It was an incredible move and a genius album. Doesn't that justify its inclusion in the legacy-edition series? I think so.
© Words – Alan McGee (Original article appeared in The Guardian – Used by Kind permission)