George Michael - Faith - Remastered
Faith. You gotta have it, you just gotta. In 1987 you had no damn choice. On its way to topping 25 million sales worldwide, George Michael’s first solo outing since the break-up of Wham! shifted over a million copies in the US in its first week alone. By anyone’s standards, them’s some units. How fabulous it would have been then, to report that, fresh from its spruced up re-packaging, Faith was worthy of serious re-evaluation and could stand up to the hyper cynicism of a new pop age. How sad to report that it remains a stultifying experience, airless and functional; sonically impressive but emotionally and intellectually un-engaging.
The semi-iconic imagery (the 501s, the jacket, the shades, the trend-setting aversion to razors) aside, underneath its expensively programmed, sleek surface, lies a record that doesn’t fully match its funk-soul grooves to a wholly convincing and winning sense of narrative or even personal exploration. I always thought Faith was a chilly affair and two decades on it’s as cold and distant as it ever was. That it made our man a megastar, that he wrote it, produced it and played most of the instruments is nothing to scoff at, but scratch below that gleaming surface. Against a backdrop of abject over-production, George’s navigation of his own rampant quest for love and lovin’ (largely the latter, it must be said) is delivered in under-developed scrawl worthy of a school desk: “Well I guess it would be nice if I could touch your body / I know not everybody has got a body like you”). Scale down those expectations now. Lyrical concerns cover ‘Do you fancy a shag?’, ‘Please don’t leave me’ and the likes of ‘Hand to Mouth’ attempt low-level social commentary. You may well ask whether there’s much else to write about but when you find yourself finally realising that 'I Want Your Sex' isn’t actually so outré as you originally hoped but merely clumsy and juvenile, well, the method of execution starts to nibble at the subject matter. Faith offers potential bedfellows a combination of rampant rogering and a sea of post-break up tears. Pull yourself together, man.
And so much of this record lacks colour and spark, becomes a bit of a bore - something of a sin in itself. ‘Hard Day’ and ‘Monkey’ are grooves rather than fully realised songs and ‘One More Try’ still makes me squirm: “And teacher there are things that I have to learn.” Supporters will no doubt see a bared soul, troubled George yearning for spiritual uplift. But to these ears, when he sings “teacher” it’s always sounded not so much daft as creepy. The sad thing is, the rap sheet to date still gives the faint impression our man could still be an artist of depth, or at least daring. Or just a bit of an engaging character - which is what so often have to settle for from our icons these day. Careering around central London while chuffing on a joint, picking up coppers in park loos, the out-of-character attack on George Bush: no-one could accuse him of snuggling up to his fortune like a spoilsport hermit. And by all accounts the most recent tour filled football stadiums with a healthy dose of old school showmanship. But Faith steadfastly doesn’t reward yours and how disappointing the reality. George, do you not have in you another ‘Praying for Time’? (Even loyal disciple Robbie is having a go these days. Could you even get close to the majesty and melancholy of ‘Morning Sun’?)
So, sad to say, that’s why when I think of George Michael I picture not so much the stalwart of daring ingenuity that his reputation might suggest, hunched over the mixing desk, struggling to contain a flurry of ideas. Instead I see a cosseted diva camping it up with Elton as they counter-punch their way through ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me’. That his best work, and probably epitaph, is a Christmas song is no ringing endorsement, either. Troubled visionary? Are you serious? For one so lazy and over-indulged, we should actually shoulder some of the guilt ourselves. Perpetuating the myth is pure folly.