George Michael: Faith (Special Edition)

RIYL: Madonna, Michael Jackson, ’80s-era CHR

The world will probably never see another album rule the world like George Michael’s Faith did from 1987 to 1989. Twenty million copies sold worldwide. Number One on the R&B charts, a first for a white artist. Six Top Five singles, four of which went to #1. As pop records go, it was a monster, and while Michael Jackson’s Bad, released two months earlier, notched one more #1 single than Faith did, Faith managed to outsell Bad by two million copies. It also, strangely, won the Grammy for Album of the Year two years after its release.

George Michael - Faith - COLOR5

Looking back at the album today, it’s easy to see why it was so popular; the songs have held up remarkably well (unlike, say, a good chunk of the songs on Bad), and Michael covers a lot of territory in the process, from contemporary dance pop (“I Want Your Sex,” “Hard Day,” “Monkey”) to mid-tempo ballads (“Father Figure”), while throwing in a Bo Diddley-style jam (the title track) and a jazz-fueled torch song (the underrated “Kissing a Fool”) for good measure. Michael’s voice has tremendous range and versatility, and his production is downright minimal in an era known for bombast. It’s a dead brilliant pop record, and the fact that Michael was a mere 23 when he made it is, well, sickening, really.

The bonus disc of Epic/Legacy’s re-release of Faith culls together B-sides and remixes from the era, which includes instrumental versions of “Faith” and “Kissing a Fool,” Michael’s covers of “I Believe When I Fall in Love” and “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” and, at long last, the full-length version of Shep Pettibone’s remix to “Hard Day” (the version that appeared on the Faith CD is a good two to three minutes shorter). Also included are Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’ mixes to “Monkey” (single edit, 12″ mix, a cappella). Very shrewd move on Michael’s part to get them involved, as the song would not have reached the top of the charts without them. Curiously, the track “Fantasy” is included as well, though it first appeared as a B-side to Listen Without Prejudice Vol. I track “Freedom ’90.” Tough to argue with its inclusion, as it’s a gem, but there are some UK-only and promo-only remixes to “Faith” and “Father Figure” that should probably be here instead.

The DVD contains all of the music videos from the period, as well as the MTV promo film “Music, Money, Love, Faith,” where Michael gears up for his first solo world tour (don’t blink, or you’ll miss his chreographer, a then-unknown Paula Abdul). The uncensored version of “I Want Your Sex” is included as well as the censored one, and both clips seem pretty tame by today’s standards. (Michael wearing nothing but a sheet, horrors!) The best bit is the 40-minute interview Michael did with British TV personality Jonathan Ross, where he delves deeply into Michael’s personal life, even asking him if he’s taken an AIDS test and whether or not he wears a condom. Fans of George Michael, or ’80s pop in general, will find much to love here. (Epic/Legacy 2011)

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Mika: The Boy Who Knew Too Much

RIYL: Queen, George Michael, Harry Nilsson

As anyone who’s ever tried to tell a story to a room full of people can tell you, it’s exceedingly difficult to entertain even one person, let alone several million – which is part of why it’s always so disappointing to see successful entertainers try and get serious on us. From Bill Murray in “The Razor’s Edge” to George Michael with Listen Without Prejudice, Volume One, artists are forever trying to show us that they can do more than make us laugh and/or dance – usually with disappointing results. Let’s give Mika credit, then, for not forgetting what moved six million copies of his 2007 debut, Life in Cartoon Motion – namely, the same gleefully layered Technicolor pop that forms the basis of its follow-up, The Boy Who Knew Too Much.

Mika makes no bones about sticking close to his roots, so to speak; as soon as you lay eyes on Boy’s artwork, which looks – at a glance, anyway – awfully similar to Cartoon Motion’s, you’ll know this isn’t going to be a major departure. In fact, it’s really just more of everything: more bright pop hooks, more production, and more wonderfully over-the-top arrangements. It takes less than a full minute before Mika’s leading what sounds like a cast of hundreds in a sing-along chant of “We are not what you think we are! We are golden!” and it’s off to the races from there, in one endless falsetto loop-de-loop of swirling harmonies, pounding pianos, and instantly memorable melodies.

Read the rest after the jump...

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