While it took the second Wham! album to make George Michael a household name, he’d had a pretty busy couple of years in the spotlight. Yet despite his success, and perhaps thanks to some controversy along the way, he just wasn’t happy, as evidenced by all the photos of him sporting a knotted brow.
He obviously wanted to be taken seriously as An Artist, as opposed to the pretty boy with the tight jeans and stubble. Therefore, the marketing campaign for his sophomore solo album, the dangerously titled Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, was stark and simple, with barely a photo of the boy anywhere. The music, he warned, was a little more subdued as well. But it really wasn’t that much a departure, considering such slow jams as “Father Figure” and “Kissing A Fool” had been among the several hit singles from Faith. There was, however, a whole lotta acoustic guitar on the album, mixed as high as the “Funky Drummer” samples that drive the faster songs.
Still, those seeking another fun CD to listen to on the way to aerobics class would have been a little impatient, and that’s their loss. The focus is on melody and message, as evidenced by the first single, the lovely and dare we say Beatlesque “Praying For Time”, slathered in guitars and bathroom tile echo. Chances are they skipped ahead to “Freedom! ‘90”, which separated itself from the earlier Wham! song by concentrating on his own beefs. (The risqué supermodel-heavy video helped distract from the angst.) A reverent cover of the obscure Stevie Wonder song “They Won’t Go When I Go” adds to the feeling of defiance, and the preaching continues on “Something To Say”, which today seems to have inspired Extreme’s “Hole Hearted”. The jazzy “Cowboys And Angels” was probably just too long for people to grasp, smooth as it is.
“Waiting For That Day” might have been a bigger hit if it hadn’t quoted from “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, thus jettisoning half the royalties to Allen Klein. Similarly, the anti-war sentiments of “Mother’s Pride” jarred with the patriotism during the Gulf War. Another upbeat acoustic track, “Heal The Pain”, made more sense some eighteen years later when it was rerecorded as a duet with Paul McCartney; here the layered voices can distract. “Soul Free” brings back the beats, before an even more understated reprise of “Waiting” closes the big statement.
Already pissed off at his label, George was even more irritated when Listen Without Prejudice failed to sell by the bucketful, prompting him to shelve plans for a more upbeat Vol. 2 and pout about the injustice of it all for several years. While he would put out the occasional single, he made more headlines for his fights with the label and the various policemen who caught him misbehaving in public restrooms. Meanwhile, now that Faith has been expanded in a deluxe remaster, perhaps some of the curious will take the opportunity to truly listen, with or without prejudice, to its troubled follow-up. Given the chance, it deserves to emerge as a collection of excellent, caricature-free pop, and a lot better than they might expect.
George Michael Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 (1990)—3½