George Michael – Songs From The Last Century
Monday December 6th, 1999. This day marks the release of George Michael’s surprising left-field covers album, Songs From the Last Century. As if there wasn’t enough evidence to support George’s case already, Songs From the Last Century marks as yet another clear-cut example of an artist being driven by their love of music – devoted to the craft – and not money. There was always a sense of satisfaction when George plotted his next move, as it always seemed to go against the grain on what people thought he should do next. You have to remember that Songs From the Last Century was a relatively ballsy move for George at the time, as it was succeeding his magnum opus, Older: a timeless classic that displayed a sophisticated new sound and image – a smooth, soulful and jazzy sound palette that was underpinned by macabre themes and a setup for his rawest personal-healing-lyric-writing to date. The thing is, while Songs From the Last Century sounds like an arbitrary left-turn on paper, the execution isn’t that far removed from its predecessor; the LP works as an extremely organic continuation on from Older, with the twist being that George is giving out renditions to some of his favourite songs. This project was clearly a “hobby album” – a reactionary response to getting over his 1996 classic, by making something that was fun and full of positivity. Older’s blueprint is the foundation here, but it’s a much freer spirit, using serene backdrops while Michael has the time of his life. But if nothing else, these covers represent an overt commentary on George garnering some semblance of closure from writing the extremely poignant Older record.
Now Twenty years old, and Songs From the Last Century still displays an incredible amount of finesse and excitement upon hearing the pacified reinterpretations of Roberta Flank’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and U2’s classic “Miss Sarajevo”. At the time, the album was initially met with a middling reception from both its fans and critics, but I think time has been kind to this album. It’s fairly understandable why George’s fourth effort didn’t see eye-to-eye with everyone at the time, of course, as it didn’t play ball to be on radio playlists – it was clearly never designed to be that kind of album. Its easy-going demeanour formulates a new facet and artistic expression for Michael, sure, but it was obviously made to be a chilled-out, undemanding indulgence that moved away from the bleak tribulations he had been through prior. While lacking in the succinct pop hits of yore, it more than makes up for it with a cohesive atmosphere and an interesting approach to his cover choices, whilst respecting the listeners’ intelligence in the hope they’ll have a halfway-decent attention span to appreciate these subtle offerings. It’s a galaxy away from George Michael’s finest hour, but as with everything he did in his career, it just adds another layer of sophistication to his already layered and complex character.
“Wild is the Wind”
“My Baby Just Cares for Me”