Ladies And Gentlemen - The Best Of George Michael
Without a psyche that looks like a blancmange dropped from the Empire State Building, the world's rich and famous are of little use to their public....
George Michael has always appeared faintly troubled, but behind the tedious legal struggles and carefully ambiguous sexuality, he was [I]classy[/I]. Classiness, as is well known, generally means St Tropez and lingerie, yet it also yoked George to the decrepit rock royalty of Elton and Queen, made him a Prince's Trust kind of guy. Then the crisis: Los Angeles Vice Squad, public toilet - and the next thing you know, new single 'Outside' sees George singing, [I]"I'd service the community (but I already have you see)"[/I] while dressing as a cop for the video and dancing with enough abandon to make Village People look like the Trumpton Home Guard. He then puts this disco inferno on his greatest hits album called, possibly lavatorially, 'Ladies And Gentlemen'. You have to admire the man.
Yet George's duality has never just been an issue of whose sex he wanted. Split into two CDs, 'For The Heart' and 'For The Feet', 'Ladies And Gentlemen' highlights the division between raunchy playboy and bland soulboy, both compelled to end every line with [I]"baby" [/I]but very different sides of the same beard. 'Praying For Time' is a splendidly melodramatic breath of apocalypse, and 'Jesus To A Child' is irresistibly maudlin. Yet the cringing espadrilled sincerity of 'Careless Whisper' still proves the word 'feet' sounds silly in a love song and the rest is oleaginous gloop.
By the second CD, though, the Mick Hucknall slime-trail has evaporated, revealing George's five-star empathy with disco sleaze. A consummate narcissist - [I]"I'd love to see you naked, baby... maybe tonight, if that's alright"[/I], he intones coolly on the staccato seduction of 'Too Funky' - he's also aware of the profound melancholy of Having A Good Time. The thrill-stalking emptiness of 'Fastlove', the hate-fuelled 'Sympathy For The Devil' roll of 'Freedom '90', the brassy bleakness of 'Spin The Wheel' - these are the star stigmata. Stare all you want.
You will probably know and hate more of these songs than you realised, yet there is something ineffably impressive about George: his resilient dignity, effortless, glitzy tunes and a fine way with an innuendo. May many more years of, ooh, hard labour await him. Baby.
To read all our reviews first - days before they appear online - check out NME magazine, on sale every Wednesday