George Michael

Dreamworks, 1996

REVIEW BY: Melanie Love


Something about the latest George Michael drug bust made me want to dig out something by the preternaturally gifted pop icon, odd penchant for public restrooms or not. Problem is, the best stuff of Michael’s catalogue has already been covered here on the Vault, leaving only some of his later and far patchier solo albums. The thing with Michael is (Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 aside, which is solid and stunning throughout), he’s far better at crafting those deliriously catchy, dance-worthy singles or poignant ballads than he is at releasing a cohesive album, where the material in between the chart-topers can stand on its own.

1996’s Older was released following Michael’s long seclusion after the death of his lover from AIDS in 1993 and an acrimonious, public battle with Sony over his non-promotion of Listen Without Prejudice. The hit singles here -- six in all -- made Michael the first artist in UK chart history to have six top 3 singles from a single album.

Still, those six singles are missing that signature Michael spark, the cheekiness and looseness that made him a household name. And that’s not to mention the rest of the songs here, which drown in melancholy and listless arrangement. Only “Fastlove,” “Spinning The Wheel,” and “Star People” move past this downbeat introspection, with varying degrees of success. “Fastlove,” a plea for noncommittal, one-night stands as a way to avoid the pain of relationships, has always been a longtime favorite of mine. It’s got a silky-smooth groove with touches of brass, and Michael’s voice is as stellar as ever, slick and teasing yet somehow revelatory (“In the absence of security / I made my way into the night / Stupid Cupid keeps on calling me / But I see nothing in his eyes / I miss my baby”), giving this track a hookiness despite lacking an actual chorus. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Meanwhile, “Spinning The Wheel” is even less punchy (though it goes down better in concert), and just meanders for six minutes. “Star People,” a not-so scathing diatribe against, one would assume, Sony (“Star people, counting your money ‘til your soul turns green”) has more going for it with an impassioned vocal and light backing harmonies, despite an strange diversion into Intro Psychology: “Maybe your daddy didn’t love you enough, girl.” It’s much better in its remix incarnations, namely the funked-up, driving beats and fuller instrumentation of “Star People ‘97” from the Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best Of George Michael collection.

It’s really some of the least overt songs that work the best here, as Michael seems too downtrodden to make a go of his usual “Wake me up before you go-go” fare. “Jesus To A Child,” an ode to his lost lover, is haunting in its bareness and sentiment, while the restrained drums and winding synths are a perfect match for Michael’s deep, pained voice as he promises, “So the words that you could not say, I’ll sing them for you.” Meanwhile, the low-key title track somehow manages to resonate, despite combining all of the bland elements that trip up the rest of the songs here:  the thin, unvarying arrangements, the programmed beats, the mirthless lyrics. Maybe it’s because “Older” comes first up in a string of material that all sounds the same, but it’s more palatable than the throwaway “It Doesn’t Really Matter” or the overlong “The Strangest Thing,” which takes an intriguing, hypnotic Middle Eastern beat and still manages to sputter off into the forgettable.

I adore George Michael, but there’s not too much to love here, and you get the sense listening to Older that he is similarly stuck. This is only worth it for “Fastlove” and “Jesus To A Child,” but getting the Best Of collection is always a good investment (and will save having to wade through the blur of bland filler here).

Rating: C-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


What six hits are you talking about? they must have been hits over seas. I have this CD, I'm going to listen to it again to see if recognize anything. I do remember "Star 97" from the greatest hits CD, but that's all.

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