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POP MUSIC REVIEW : The Seductive Style of George Michael

Times Staff Writer

It wasn’t a show, it was an attempted seduction.

It worked too, judging from the shrieks, sighs and pants of the predominantly female audience at George Michael’s Forum show Sunday, the opener of his three-night engagement. (Michael is also appearing Friday through Sunday at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.)

Some artists captivate crowds merely on the strength of their music. But to a large degree, this 25-year-old British pop-soul singer does it with sex--as flagrantly as Prince at his most erotic.

With the exception of Michael Jackson, Michael is the hottest male solo artist in the business. His debut solo album, “Faith,” which has sold more than 10 million units and features four No. 1 singles, has catapulted him to pop stardom.

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Michael combines the instincts of a soul singer with the moves of a male go-go dancer. While wailing away on such sizzling dance tunes as “Monkey,” “Faith” and “I’m Your Man,” he was bumping, grinding and strutting like one of those hunks on the runway at Chippendale’s. His outfits also fueled the crowd’s passions. The slender singer, noted for his manicured stubble and that one, cross-shaped earring, wore tight black pants, no shirt and an assortment of short jackets.

Though he occasionally slowed down the pace with a ballad, it was the dance tunes that ignited the crowd. Backed by an excellent six-piece band featuring bassist Deon Estus--who also served as the opening act--Michael exuberantly performed what may be the best body of dance music this side of Michael Jackson.

Michael, making his first local appearance as a solo performer, even included some classy non-originals. Wild Cherry’s sassy “Play that Funky Music” and LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade” were among the highlights.

Michael’s stage is a giant cage that opens up at the start of the show, with a burst of smoke, flashing lights and stately, ominous music. He opens and closes with high-voltage versions of “I Want Your Sex.” At the end of show the cage closes as grandiosely as it opened.

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Throughout, the lighting was breathtaking--imaginatively bathing the star in a swirl of colors that illuminated the mood of the music. The exceptional production values considerably enhanced the show’s appeal.

Though obviously geared to female teens and young women, the show isn’t necessarily a bore to those who don’t fall into those categories. If you can get past the sex packaging, the show was first-rate musically.

Michael isn’t just another pretty face, one of those glamour boys sneaking by on looks and sex appeal. He’s the best white soul singer to come along since Daryl Hall emerged in the mid-'70s, and he often seems like the reincarnation of Marvin Gaye.

You get the sense that Michael, who may be a better songwriter than singer, reveres black music. His soul-oriented songs are homages rather than rip-offs.

Like Madonna when she first started, Michael doesn’t get much respect in critical circles, where he’s often dismissed either as just another teen idol or a white singer capitalizing on black music. Part of his problem stems from his questionable origins as co-leader of the pop bubble-gum duo Wham!

Many tend to remember that group’s confections like “Wake Me up Before You Go-Go,” while forgetting that the same outfit sang the more substantial “Careless Whisper” and “I’m Your Man.”

It’s easy to see how critics can overlook his singing and songwriting while flailing away at his highly visible, sexualized image. Sunday’s show had plenty of the latter, but it was hard to miss the substance behind all that sexual flash.


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