Review Summary: The music found on Fantastic is the polar opposite to what the title might suggest, and is a textbook example that well marketed crap still sells.
In 1998, when I was nine years old, the single and video of the song ‘Outside’ by George Michael were released. I was just getting into music when my older cousin made me watch the video clip. At nine, you’re not truly capable of getting what’s going on in that video. My cousin explained to me what had happened to the singer a few months prior to the song’s release. I wasn't fully capable of getting it, other than that it was about homosexuality and it was funny. I was hooked on the song though, and my cousin, witnessing this, gave me his copy of Wham!’s ‘Fantastic’. I didn’t like it as much as the song, but it still got regular rotation on my stereo mainly because I didn’t have much else.
Perhaps this was his intention all along, trying to get rid of this disc. Either way, as a nine year old, you didn’t understand what was bad about this album. (Or that it was bad.)
Over the years, I never really lost track of George Michael, though he wasn’t on the top of my playlist, either. At one point I came across Wham’s second full-length, ‘Make It Big’ which made me want to find out where my copy of ‘Fantastic’ was, as I hadn’t heard it in a good while. I found the CD, and I simultaneously got a feeling of nostalgia and a good laugh of the two leather clad tough guys on the cover. AMG used the word “street-smart” in their review, and quite frankly, there isn’t a better way to describe how George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley appear here.
As ‘Outside’ showed, image is a crucial factor for any artist. In pop music in particular, it can make or break a lot of artists. In Wham!’s case, it’s half of what Wham! is – literally. While Michael was the band’s composer and singer, Ridgeley handled the band’s image and marketed it. (Ok, he played some guitar, but whether it was actually plugged into an amp is debatable.)
The image of care free, hedonistic teenagers was well received by Britain’s teenage girls, with Wham! making appearances on Top of the Pops launching them to stardom, reaching #1 on the UK charts.
The sad thing is that the music found on this album can merely hint at what the then 20 year old Michael would become. What makes these songs boring is the fact that most of them are well over four minutes of repeating synth-pop, with mostly failing attempts at making catchy choruses that aren’t even slightly sophisticated or interesting to listen to. The fact that the songs are quite lengthy makes the already weak songwriting even worse by overplaying choruses and verses that you really don’t want to hear four or more times.
Wham! has always been a singles band, and sophomore album ‘Make It Big’ was mostly carried on the strength of its singles. This is another issue with this disc. “Bad Boys”, the album’s opener and third single, is a song about a rebelling teenager and the response of his parents to this. The lyrics are nearly laughable, with a chorus that goes:
Stick together, never sad boys
They made rules for fools, so get wise...
“Wham! Rap (Enjoy What You Do)” is the album’s ultimate low, with Michael making an attempt to, well.. rap, I guess. What it results to is what could be a b-side of a Mike Patton CD. (He was undoubtedly influenced by Wham! to an extent.) The “tough guy” rapping and cheesy chorus also go on for about three minutes too long, as this song clocks in at well over six and a half minutes, without changing the slightest.
Surprisingly, the album does feature some half-decent moments. “Club Tropicana” hints at Michael’s future work, sounding more like the adult pop he would create in his solo work, with a funky bassline and Michael’s best vocal performance on the album.
“Ray of Sunshine” features a catchy chorus, (surprisingly this wasn’t a single) the only problem with it is the fact that it’s incredibly milked out, and a high pitched voice (like somebody took helium) going “WATCH IT BOOOY!” is just so funny that it’s hard to take it seriously.
The word disappointing isn’t the right term to describe Wham’s debut album, because you can’t really expect George Michael’s songwriting to be on par with his later work at age 20. It’s far from being good, and the duo’s sophomore disc would already show drastic improvement of Michael’s abilities, improving on every aspect of his songwriting, with more sophisticated songs that are also catchier. If you don’t have anything by Wham!, leave this where it is and get ‘Make It Big’ instead.