* * * GEORGE MICHAEL. "Faith." Columbia.
George Michael must have a lot of weighty matters on his mind these days, now that he's ditched Andrew Ridgeley, his longtime partner in Wham!, to chart his own solo path. Michael was always that duo's more creative and prolific member, which is a polite way of saying he did mostly everything. He always seemed like a solo artist even before he made the big move. This official solo debut album just verifies that the move was a sound and logical one.
Many of Michael's Wham! hits reflected teen-to-early-20s concerns and scenarios. The songs he's recorded on his own are more grown-up in tone, and one of the major weighty matters on Michael's mind is sex.
It's the topic that naturally dominates "I Want Your Sex (Part 1 and 2)," on which he sidesteps the "irresponsible" label by warning in ominous Big Brother terms: "Sex is natural, sex is fun/Sex is best when it's one on one." There are also the single-entendre wink and tussle of "Hard Day" and the frankly sexual, Frankie Goes to Hollywood-isms of "Monkey."
What keeps most of this from seeming one-dimensional is that this 24-year-old has a take on life that isn't cliche-ridden or predictable. When Michael's not being hoisted around by hormones, he can take a bluesy look at a woman trapped in a nowhere marriage ("Look at Your Hand"), and paint a sophisticated aural picture of economic deprivation and dreams of a better life ("Hand to Mouth").
The cut that bears the closest scrutiny is "Father Figure." Easily one of the gentlest, most romantic songs Michael's ever written, it seems to be about taking love beyond the superficial level to a deeper, more protective bond. "If you are the desert, I'll be the sea," Michael tells the object of his desire. "If you ever hunger, hunger for me."
When he sings in his big, clear voice on "One More Try" he sounds like your archetypal, modern-day pop star who was weaned on soul music; then he turns around and croons like a suave, tuxedo-clad '40s songsmith on "Kissing a Fool." It's that kind of creative stretch that makes even Michael's missteps seem interesting.