Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1
REVIEW BY: Melanie Love
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/19/2008
For all the scandal that seems to perpetually surround George Michael (just a theory: maybe putting the pot away -- at least while driving -- would help), it’s hard to deny that he’s definitely up there with the greats when it comes to the sheer power of his vocals and stunning showmanship; and there’s really no better evidence of this than Michael’s second solo album, 1990’s critically acclaimed Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1.
Following the massive commercial success of his solo debut, 1987’s smash Faith, Michael found himself at a crossroads, feeling stifled by his megastar status and wanting a clean break from the radio-friendly image he had come to detest; Prejudice, then, despite being considered a commercial failure, is nevertheless a mature and reflective collection lightyears apart from the more lighthearted fare that had made Michael a household name (not that I don’t love Wham! or get “Faith” stuck fast in my head every single time I spin it…)
Lead single “Praying For Time” launches off the album in a thick haze of echoing vocals and acoustic guitars and features Michael singing in a lower range to more formally distance himself from the realm of sunny pop, his tone oddly soothing even on lines like “It’s hard to love when there’s so much to hate/Hanging on to hope when there is no hope to speak of.” It’s the expressiveness of his voice that makes this track such a potent opener, switching seamlessly from scathing to aching to helpless on this rumination on social injustices.
Prejudice may be best known for “Freedom 90,” a lengthy six-and-a-half single supported by a video in which Michael was noticeably absent, replaced by lip-syncing supermodels and an exploding jukebox, leather jacket and guitar in a symbolic nod to the destruction of his Faith career. Its catchy chorus and uptempo, jangling instrumentation, coupled with his signature soaring vocals make this confessional a striking example of Michael’s newfound independence and proves that his struggle for seriousness could retain the hooks and brilliant tones that make his music so endearing.
For sheer variety, this album sets itself apart from Michael’s earlier work: from the deeply somber “They Won’t Go When I Go,” on which he is accompanied only by piano and a hauntingly harmonized chorus, to the light acoustic guitar strums and higher, clear vocals of “Something To Save” to the smooth, jazzy beat of “Cowboys And Angels” (which is absolutely stunning from start to its seven-minute finish), each song charts a new direction, allowing Michael to explore the range of his voice and plumb his lyrical depths rather than trying to craft shocking, shamelessly catchy “I Want Your Sex Pts. 1-3”-esque material.
Having been raised on George Michael, it’s always hard for me to choose favorites with him, whether it’s the lightheartedness of “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” or Michael tackling the tale of a fallen soldier on this disc’s aching “Mother’s Pride.” Still, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, though it’s Michael’s most serious and assured statements as an artist, still manages to retain his most winning signature, making this one of those resonant albums that has only gotten better with age.