September 1, 2005

Sex and Respect

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He single-handedly revived the five o’clock shadow. He wanted your sex – three times in one album no less. He forced us to look deep down into our soul and ask ourselves questions such as “Why can’t you do it? Why can’t you set your monkey free?” You may scoff at him now for the joke that he has become, but there was a time when George Michael ruled the world. Of course, that was way before we figured out why we can’t just set our monkey free when the former Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou was arrested for masturbating in front of a policeman in a public bathroom. But back in the late ’80s/early ’90s, Michael created one of the best pop albums of the modern era. George Michael first came to fame as half of the critically reviled duo, Wham! (yes, with an exclamation point), where Michael wrote such smash successes as “Wham Rap!” (yes, with an exclamation point) and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” While songs such as the latter provided male supermodels drinking orange mocha frappuccinos with the soundtrack to their lives, other hits like “Careless Whisper” pointed to the sophisticated direction the pop tunesmith would be taking in the near future.

Predictably, George Michael soon went solo to release his 1987 pop classic, Faith. Despite his complete dismissal of all things exclamation pointed, the album only received lukewarm reviews from critics, a reaction that led to insecurity and defensiveness that would ultimately ruin Michael’s songwriting. But on Faith, everything was perfect. The centerpiece of the album is “Father Figure,” a masterpiece that I am not (too) ashamed to admit might be the Sexiest Song of All Time. Oedipal motif aside, the song combines eastern instrumentation, gospel choruses, lullaby-like moments and an absolutely heart-wrenching vocal performance by Michael to create an atmosphere of pure intimacy.

Michael went on next to create 1990’s Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1. A desperate plea for respect, the album suffered from its self-consciousness and downright pretentiousness. But it did contain a few classics, including the top ten hit “Freedom 90.” Musically one of those Perfect Pop Songs, Michael took it upon himself to repeatedly offer us such timeless wisdom like “Sometimes the clothes do not make the man.”

Archived article by Jared Wolfe
Sun Staff Writer