Listen Without Prejudice, Volume I
Rating: 5
   This is a special request review from Jessica. (Yes, I do requests and long distance dedications. Contact me if you'd like something special reviewed.)
   Honestly, I can't say I have much prejudice about George Michael - I really never thought about him much. My impressions are that most guys named George aren't the funkiest (George W. Bush, George Soros, my great-uncle George), but then there is George Clinton.
   Upon my ever-unbiased examination, I find this to be an unspectacular album that is charming in lots of places, but a little dull throughout. "Praying for Time" doesn't do much with its rich layers of synthesizers, and "Mother's Pride" really drags. Peppier moments include "Freedom '90" with a terrific refrain but sticky verses, and "Waiting for That Day", which rides a beautiful acoustic guitar riff to some glorious harmonies.
   I found the intersection between gospel piano and Russian liturgical melody fascinating on "They Won't Go When I Go," but thought the lyrics a bit self-serving. Likewise, "Heal the Pain" features a terrifically emotional vocal on some half-baked words.
   The production is top-notch throughout. Guitars are crisp, vocals have wonderful presence, and the use of percussion is brilliant. "Heal the Pain" may sound like Freddie Mercury fronting the Cowsills, but that bongos & tambourine combination is way cool. When I heard the reggae drum machine on "Soul Free" I thought I would hate it, but when he brings in the rototoms it retrieves the groove.
   The whole album has a sense of desperation, like George wants to be taken seriously as an artist. This means sometimes he doesn't loosen up and go with the groove when he really should; all the best artists are men and women who simply follow their muses where they take them. Would Stevie Wonder be the same without "Isn't She Lovely?" Or Loudon Wainwright III without "Dead Skunk?" There's a big goofy hit inside George just waiting to come out. In the meantime, we're left with his great voice and terrific ear for arrangements, which are by no means disappointing.
   There - I did what the man wanted, and with no prejudice whatsoever I can say: Listen Without Prejudice, Volume I is not bad at all, and I bet Volume II will be even better, once he cuts out the slow stuff and has a little fun.

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