Review Summary: Who gives a fuck about your problems darling, when you can pay the rent?
There seems to be something of an unspoken half-truth in any form of art nowadays that angst is what fuels the best contribution to society from any artist. I call this a half-truth because usually when an artist goes through something like a breakup, they're quick to rush out a reactionary product that often gets a huge overinflation of quality from their fans, that they almost focus more on the context rather than the quality. Don't believe me? Just look at the past decade, which has had a fair share of reactionary breakup albums and then some. Robin Thicke himself managed to rush one out within 3 months of his divorce from Paula Patton! And it's easy to see why an event like that would ignite a creative flame in one's soul- they finally have something to write about, or express their emotions with other people to. And then there's people who live through trauma and after some years of internalizing it, manage to put out their most compelling work yet.
So it goes without saying that the 1990s were a bad time for George Michael- and the biggest reason why can be chalked up to the death of his boyfriend, Anselmo Feleppa, in 1993 from AIDS. Another reason was pure fuckery from his record label, Sony Records, for piss poor promotion for Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1
. This led to Michael engaging in a bitter legal battle with the label- but as an even bigger blow, he somehow lost the battle. So this mixture of grievance and anger led him to devote 3 years to crafting what would be his third solo effort, Older
. One can get the sense from listening to this album that Michael was just about done with being known as the guy who does "Careless Whisper" or "Freedom!"- this album is definitely the most unique musical effort from Michael, as he explores plenty of musical territory he hadn't been previously known for. He covers a whole bunch of bases such as jazz-funk, electropop, soul, R&B and plenty of others, and it definitely makes a good case for why Michael deserves to be seen as a true artist rather than a glorified nostalgia act. Even the album cover and all the promotional imagery for Older
shows Michael taking a firm grip on maturity- we only see half his face in grayscale, with a sinister stare, letting fans know this isn't just any Michael affair. Even the video for "Fastlove" shows Michael hide his face half in the shadows for the majority of it.
With how many different styles Older
takes on, it's a wonder it's as consistent as it is. For nearly an hour, Michael takes us on a musical bumpy ride with plenty of ups and downs. When the album is serious, it's dead serious in tone- all beginning with the 7-minute opener "Jesus to a Child", which has a very mournful tone despite its very soulful, Bossa Nova sound. The lyrics are a tribute to Feleppa himself, with the overall message that lovers, even in death, never truly fade away. And there are several other similar sounding tracks with a melancholy air throughout the album- even catchier tracks like "Fastlove" have an air of bitterness to them that make them all the more intriguing. In the midst of pleading someone to let him fuck them just for a quickie, he has a moment of weakness where he admits he's doing it to patch up a hole left by a lover in absence ("In the absence of security, I made my way into the night/Stupid Cupid keeps on calling me, but I see loving in his eyes/I miss my baby..."
). It's little moments like this that contribute to Older
's unique atmosphere, with even the brightest and most upbeat moments being peppered with a bit of a sardonic sense of humour ("All that bullshit conversation, baby can't you read the signs?"
). This is even most evident on "Star People" which is clearly a jab at celebrity worship and how people ignore their bad actions while also forgetting said bad actions could be the result of a bad childhood ("Who gives a fuck about your problems darling/When you can pay the rent?"
). And all this is done over a funky, jazzy beat with some of Michael's most soulful vocal delivery to date.
Like most of his stuff, Michael's vocals are the strongest point of the album. Knowing when to go into sexy territory while also belting it out when he needs to, Michael is always the strongest point of his albums as his profound vocal delivery sells the material he sings perfectly. There are a number of weaker tracks here- the aforementioned "Star People" is never quite as clever as it thinks it is on the surface, but Michael sells it with his vocal performance alone. Similarly "You Have Been Loved" isn't quite as powerful as "Jesus to a Child", but his emotional vocal performance, again, is what seals the deal. Yet these weaker moments are always balanced by the number of real, genuine tunes here, like the infectiously catchy "The Strangest Thing" and irresistibly jazzy "Spinning the Wheel".
If there's one album that must stand as a defining moment for George Michael as a genuine artist, it's Older
, which not only saved him from sheer irrelevance but also proved to the world that he wasn't just some flash in the pan catchy pop tunes from the 80s. Older
is a true testament to his power as a solo artist and his penchant for writing emotionally compelling material. Even if the emotional tones is all the album has going for it, it's still one gloriously and aggressively lovable album with tunes that will for sure be in your head for days.