After ‘Older’, could this be ‘Coffin Dodgin’‘? The progression in Mr Michael‘s career has been a little confusing of late. His last album failed to produce the great songwriting moments, but his forcible outing by the LAPD saw him salvage some persecuted minority kudos. ‘Outside’, plus video, was funny and vital, so it’s strange that he should decide to sleepwalk out of the ’90s dressed in borrowed pyjamas.
Unlike Bryan Ferry, whose current cover versions collection fits him well, Michael is not, at base, a crooner, and most of the ‘Songs From…’ requires him to drape himself in the highly unbecoming double-breasted attire of pre-war ballads, jazzy standards and big-band swing. Not that the collection is remotely coherent. It has the feeling of a Dada karaoke night run by senile Radio 2 producers.
Like Aled Jones trying to sing Chet Baker (the latter’s woozy smack-jazz vocal style appears to have been an influence), George oozes sugar into ’30s hard times show tune, ‘Brother Can You Spare A Dime’.
Next we’re wanged into the ’70s for fellow jazz criminal Sting‘s ‘Roxanne’, which is radical in its muted double-bass interpretation, but abominable in its mismatching of Michael‘s contralto with the Thelonious Monk ambience.
The reverberations from the stylistic clash of feathered tonsil and wire-brush syncopation are the only things to keep you from nodding off through ‘You’ve Changed’ until the tempo spurt of ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’, a more whimsical sidestep which George carries off pretty well. The rub here is that though he’s a technically impressive singer, he doesn’t have the gravitas to be a great interpreter.
The more recent the song, the more it suits him, simply because Michael belongs in the same landscape as Bono and Eno, singing their ‘Miss Sarajevo’, a song about a model in a war zone sung by a glossy celebrity. It’s viable in a way that adding more slush to an already slush-raddled ‘The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face’ just isn’t.
So ‘I Remember You’ twinkles with harps like the cheesiest moment from a West End musical, ‘Secret Love’ offers us a full-on Doris Day impersonation and in the soft-focus version of the Bowie-popularised ‘Wild Is The Wind’ the grand passions are delivered as if chatting with his manicurist.
It’s a relief when the final song ‘It’s Alright With Me’ turns out to be an instrumental, and a slight surprise that there are no sleigh bells on the end of it. Because unless you go along with the theory that now Michael‘s publicly gay he’s hell-bent on high camp as a revenge (a lot of this is deeply Judy Garland), this is about as worthwhile an enterprise as a collection of ‘Last Christmas’ remixes.
An evil stocking-filler for Granny or a companion piece for ‘Britney Spears Sings Billie Holiday’.