George Michael – Faith – Epic Records/Sony Legacy Recordings (2-CD reissue) 88697753192, TT: 105:52 ****:
(George Michael – keyboards, vocals, percussion, bass arrangements; with many other studio musicians)
England’s popular musicians have thrived on the influence of American R & B recordings. The British Invasion of the 1960s was steeped in the roots of blues and gospel-based music. This trend continued into the eighties. Artists, including Simply Red, Paul Young, Annie Lennox, and Phil Collins, connected to the uninhibited spiritual messages of this genre. A group named, Wham, formed by two schoolmates (George Michael and Andrew Ridgely) tapped into the reservoir of “U.S. Rhythm and Blues”. Setting a course, some would compare to the “boy band” movement, the stars cultivated a mélange of crisp dance music and soul ballads. Michael, the primary creative talent, was constrained by this format, and began a solo career. Possessing a clear emotive voice, he was destined to become a force in the contemporary music scene. A duet with Aretha Franklin elevated his credibility, and in 1987, he went into the studio to fashion a statement that represented his particular vision.
There is no doubt that George Michael exercises total control over the content and production of Faith. With writing, arrangement and production supervision (not to mention musician credits), the intention of the project is to establish the singer as a major solo artist. After the opening cathedral organ in the title cut (coyly lifting its melody from the Wham hit, “Freedom”), the tune explodes into a rockabilly structure with acoustic rhythm guitar chords and twangy electric guitar accents. Another of the hit singles, “I Want Your Sex (Pt.1 & Pt. 2)” is electronic pop funk with its then controversial title context, and sexual message. Michael delivers a stylized R & B vocal performance on the first part, while a feisty, horn chorus and slower, grooved break are cultivated in the second part. Both of these songs highlight the use of religious elan to articulate the heat of romance.
The sleek production takes center stage throughout the album. “Monkey” and “Hard Day” are suffused with a pulsing beat and “club” aesthetics that adds muscle to the mixes. There are some alternatives to the dance music. A smooth jazzy “Kissing A Fool” suggests a potential future change of direction. Michael combines breathy lower register singing with some bluesy swing phrasing. Drawing from gospel feeling, “Father Figure” incorporates a soulful vocal chorus, and some unexpected Middle Eastern synthesizer riffs to create an intriguing piece.
The bonus CD has some of the customary (and at times superfluous) material. There are two instrumental versions of Disc One tunes, (“Faith”, “Kissing A Fool”). A pleasing live version of “Love’s In Need Of Love Today” and a rendition of “I Believe When I Fall In Love” that is credible (until the stage induced audience sing-a-long), suggest the versatility of this powerful singer. For the aficionados of remixes, there are several, including three of “Monkey” (7” Edit Version, A Capella & Beats, and a high energy Jam & Lewis version).
Faith achieved enormous commercial success, winning the Grammy for Record of the Year. It placed Michael in the rarefied company of Prince and Michael Jackson, as a 1980’s superstar, and has sold over twenty million copies to date. It was impossible to approximate this level of triumph. The singer maintained popularity and record sales, but never ascended to those heights again. This remastered CD does bring a very good topical (to the eighties, that is) album into twenty-first century focus with an entertaining digitally immaculate vehicle.
TrackList: Disc One: Faith; Father Figure; I Want Your Sex (Pt. 1 & Pt. 2); One More Try; Hard Day; Hand To Mouth; Look At Your Hands; Monkey; Kissing A Fool; A Last Request (I Want Your Sex Pt. 3).
Disc Two: Faith (Instrumental); Fantasy; Hard Day (Shep Pettibone Mix); I Believe When I Fall In Love; Kissing A Fool (Instrumental) Love’s In Need Of Love Today; Monkey (7” Edit Version) Monkey (A Capella & Beats); Monkey (Jam & Lewis Remix)