What does it sound like?:
27 years after its original release, this 3 cd/DVD set arrives 10 months after the death of George Michael on Christmas day 2016.
The original release in 1990 was 4 years after the triumphant Final concert of Wham! at Wembley Stadium and the release of Faith in 1987 where George morphed from teen heartthrob to one of the biggest artists in the world determined to prove to everyone he was a serious musician with something to say. Faith was a behemoth, spawning 7 singles, A world tour consisting of 137 shows multiple awards, including the Grammy for Best Album, and breaking him in America although the British press still eyed him with suspicion as a boyband member trying to overstep his station.
At the 1989 American Music Awards he became the first white artist to win the Favourite Soul/R&B Male Artist award (besting Bobby Brown and Michael Jackson). He had transcended the norms of popular music by being played on both black and white radio across the US, but not everyone was happy. Many black artists, notably Gladys Knight, questioned the award, he had gone too far. The preceding years caught up to him and he realised he had everything he wanted and nothing he needed.
Out of all this and more came Listen Without Prejudice, the title a plea to all, listen to what I can give not what I am.
Opening Track Praying for Time, a protest song of inequality delivered as a ballad.
Freedom ‘90’ where George is determined to draw a line under everything that came before
Heal the Pain. An acoustic love song written in the style of Paul McCartney (and re-recorded as a duet with McCartney in 2005 and is on the 3rd disc of this set).
Something to Save, Cowboys and Angels, Waiting for That Day, every track on the remaster are stunning, crisp and clear and highlight how good a voice George has. In fact, these three tracks are my favourites and sound as fresh and relevant now as they did then. As a fan of George, I was underwhelmed when originally released. The lack of promotion, supermodel videos and, I felt at the time, the production was a bit too slick. It all smacked a bit like he was trying too hard. But this release has only gone to prove once again that I know nothing! An album ahead of its time it truly is a fantastic piece of work and George’s best album without question. I’ve been listening to every day and there are still moments that make me stop and catch my breath.
The Second disc is the MTV Unplugged set originally aired in 1996. Highlights are a wonderful rendition of Bonnie Raitt’s I Can’t Make You Love Me and the song You Have Been Loved, written for his partner Anselmo Feleppa, who died of an AIDS-related disease in 1993.
Disc 3 is a mix of single edits, B-sides, remixes and a few curios. The aforementioned Heal the Pain with Paul McCartney, Too Funky, Do You Really Want to Know and Happy from the 1992 Red, Hot and Dance album. It also contains the recent version of Fantasy, remixed by Nile Rodgers. Some may read this as sacrilegious, but I think it’s terrible. Based around a hook of Georges vocal speeded up and Nile’s trademark choppy guitar but it just doesn’t work, it feels unfinished. To be fair to Nile he had voiced his ‘mixed feelings’ on the release.
The DVD has a few videos and the 1990 South Bank Show talking to George about the album.
What does it all *mean*?
The recent Channel 4 documentary ‘Freedom’ puts a lot of context on how George was feeling after the Faith tour and the reasons why he did no promotion work for this album. It also talks about the tension between him and Sony and the subsequent court case. It would have made an interesting addition to this set.
Goes well with…
Might suit people who like…
If this album has fallen off your radar over the years it’s well worth a revisit