Review of George Michael’s album ‘Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1’ written by Andrew Harrison and published in the October 1990 issue of Select magazine.
Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1
WHEN THEY fall, they fall hard. In the four years since Andrew Ridgeley was pensioned off to the twilight zone where The Glitter Band and Adam’s Ants now live, George Michael merely flirted with the big themes – a bit of sexual permissiveness here (on ‘I Want Your Sex’), a veiled anti-drugs song there (‘Monkey’). Meanwhile, as the fallout from the colossal and lasting success of ‘Faith’ came down, George became the nearest thing we had to a Michael Jackson, a tantalising mixture of other-worldly talent and ever-so-slightly suspect sexuality. No matter how many beautiful women the paparazzi caught him clubbing with, it remains an open secret that Fleet Street has a £30,000 standing bounty on offer to anyone who can prove that George is gay.
It was a trivial existence for a young man who, as even his critics acknowledge, has more to offer than 30 variations on ‘Wham! Rap’, and he knew it.
‘Listen Without Prejudice’ accordingly finds George going serious in a major fashion, and in that respect at least it works perfectly. Try as you might, you just can’t see the man who made this brave and sometimes downright sober record cavorting around with a shuttlecock down his shorts.
This is not an album of potential singles and it’s not a party soundtrack. Rather, ‘Listen’ concerns itself with themes of spiritual renewal, militarism and, most of all, George’s growing revulsion at his own stardom.
At which point you might want to switch off. Don’t. Far from being a pop star whinge, the best of ‘Listen Without Prejudice’ is positively liberating for precisely the reason that while George might be taking his material more seriously than ever, he’s thrown all the Wham!-style self-aggrandisement overboard.
Starting with the sleeve, the album deliberately debunks George’s own myth as a star, relegating the obligatory shining portrait to the inner sleeve in favour of a shot of smiling nobodies on a crowded beach, taken in 1940.
You can’t get much further away from the airbrushed preening pics used on ‘Faith’ and ‘Freedom 90*, driven by the ubiquitous hip hop beat of ‘Funky Drummer’, continues the theme of George demolishing his own public persona: “All we have to see/Is that I don’t belong to you/And you don’t belong to me“. This is a delicious moment, and when you hear it you’ll forgive him every bit of egotism on ‘Fantastic’ and ‘Make It Big’.
‘Freedom 90’ leads into a lugubrious reading of Stevie Wonder’s devotional ‘They Won’t Go When I Go’, raising questions of whether George has got God or not. ‘Cowboys And Angels’ draws parallels between dependence in relationships and the counterfeit star mechanism (“It’s the ones who resist that we most want to Iriss”), and if you’re looking for ‘I’m Your Man’ you’ll be disappointed. ‘Listen Without Prejudice’ has more of George on his own with an acoustic guitar and less dancefloor-orientated stuff than any of his previous work. It is, in short, a real album.
Usually when an established pop artist gets pretensions and starts thinking of doing his ‘Sergeant Pepper’, it’s time to make your excuses and leave. But the bulk of ‘Listen Without Prejudice’ makes for fascinating listening, not least because, if The South Bank Show is to be believed, it’s George Michael’s last recorded will and testament.
The beautiful truth, though, is that it doesn’t sound that way at all. ‘Listen Without Prejudice’ could be the first time George Michael has put his formidable talents as a songwriter to a real test. All he needs to do now is lose that ridiculous stubble and great things await.
- George Michael Interview with Capital FM Radio with Dr. Fox (Dec 1998)
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)
- George Michael’s Oprah Winfrey Show Interview (2004)
- BBC Hardtalk Interview with George Michael (2003)
- Wham! You’re On Your Own, George (Sunday Times, 1986)