The 1980's were often lambasted for overproduction and image. However, with the passage of time, looking back, much of the music had more heart and soul than we initially gave it credit for. In 1987-1988, there were few acts on the planet as big as George Michael. His Faith record was not just huge, it was Thriller big. It was the best selling record of 1988, "Faith" was the top single of 1988, the tour broke records and it had a then record breaking six Top-5 singles, four of which went to number-one. That is a feat that neither Thriller, Born in the USA or Purple Rain can lay claim to. In the late winter of 1989, Faith won the Grammy for Album of the Year, a reward it deserved and one I still believe to this day that was deserving. However, George Michael has only made a scant three studio records since then and most of his success has been found in foreign markets compared to the dizzying heights of the late 1980's on US shores. His presence may be diminished, but his art has never faded far from public thought. On paper he may look like a pop star, but the scope of Faith is as impressive as its statistics, something people tend to forget.
On the surface Faith may appear as a collection of songs complimented by a series of radio friendly melodies, but it's so much more, it's a passionately striking testimonial from a then 24-year-old who appears to have been in absolute and total control. Like Orson Welles before him, who wrote Citizen Kane at the same age, Michael was coming off of immense success with Wham! and a handful of solo singles. Everything was teed up for him when 1987 rolled around. Beginning in February 1987, "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" (a one-off duet with Aretha Franklin) hit the charts and by April of 1987 was a number-one hit on both side of the Atlantic. In June, Michael came out of the gates swinging with the controversial "I Want Your Sex". In retrospect, it's a rather tame song and video but at the time, because of the use of its title it caused a furor not soon forgotten. It still ranks as one of the most controversial videos of all time. It was enough to get the song to the number-two position here in the US that summer. The song owes a nod to Prince (something Michael admits in the interview within the booklet) but it doesn't make it any less effective. The next four singles all went to number-one in America while the album's final single, "Kissing A Fool" peaked at number-five.
Much of Michael's life has taken precedence in recent years overshadowing his music, but as I listened to this 3 disc remaster, it brought me back and songs like "One More Try", "Faith", "Hard Day" and "Kissing A Fool" shed new light onto his psyche at this time. There are dimensions to the lyrics no one could have grasped back in 1987. "Hand to Mouth" and "Look at Your Hands" are the only tracks not released as singles in some part of the world and while it's easy to toss them off, like "Darlington County" From Born in the USA or "Baby Be Mine" from Thriller but they hold up better than one may expect. One of the album's highlights is Michael's vocals which radiate with drama. He evokes great soul singers while pulling you in to whatever arrangement he's provided to the lyrics. Soul, pop, r&b and rock all get their chance to shine on the album's nine tracks (ten on the CD). What was so impressive about these feats is the depth and range Michael showed. From a sprightly pop song like "Faith" to the understated "Father Figure" to the dance floor beats of "Monkey", Michael didn't just cover all musical surfaces, but he found a way to make it more than a laboratory-crafted concoction, but an album burgeoning with the voice of an artist wanting to be heard.
This special edition comes in several variations and configurations from a 2CD remaster to an LP and an extensive limited edition box set. The best of the batch if the 3-disc configuration which houses the remastered album, a disc full of b-sides and a DVD with 1987-88 interviews and all of the album's videos lasting just shy of two hours. While the set does not house any revelatory discoveries unearthed, it has compiled all previously released material (much of it not available on CD or via import only) on one place with tasteful mastering. All too often these reissues and releases leave off certain b-sides and mixes, but they pulled every available track for the collection. Some of them didn't appear until 1990 and 1991 as extra tracks on UK singles for Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1..
The new remastering gives the album a modern edge without distorting the sound. Some albums come out these days and merely have the volume level jacked up to eleven, but the tracks here sound fresh, clean and are given a more brightened sound. The second CD, while it doesn't house anything unreleased, gathers together all of the b-sides, live cuts ad remixes in one place for the first time. There are a pair of instrumentals/karaoke versions ("Faith" and "Kissing A Fool") while "Monkey" gets three remix treatments ((A Capella & Beats, Jam & Lewis Remix and the 7-inch edit). One of the most sought after tracks is "Fantasy" recorded during these sessions but not released as a b-side until 1990. The song made a triumphant return to the concert stage in 2008 when Michael added it to his set list. The Shep Pettibone Mix of "Hard Day" is here as well (it was originally on the original CD and cassette issues of the album). Rounding out the second disc are two live tracks recorded during the Faith period; "Love's In Need Of Love Today" and "I Believe When I Fall In Love". Despite the use of an electronic keyboard (in lieu of a piano), Michael's vocals give a nod to secular testifying. Despite having not written either song, he pours his spirit into each performance making you believe he could have written them. It makes you wish for some live performances to be released from this era showcasing Michael's dynamic musical intuition.
The DVD that has been included has a well rounded assortment of items. Besides seven music videos (including the uncensored version of "I Want Your Sex"), it houses a promotional film from 1988 entitled "Music Money Love Faith" showing Michael rehearse and plan his tour (with a then unknown Paula Abdul choreographing the show) and a revealing 1987 interview with Jonathan Ross done before the album's release. While there may not be much in the interview we have not learned before, it is a wonderful peak back to a time where his life and career still had an aura of innocence around it. Despite his massive success with Wham! I am not even sure if Michael could have foreseen what was to come with Faith and everything thereafter. He's wildly charming, young, naοve, innocent and guarded all at the same time. I am not sure if he could ever be this care free again and despite only being 38-minutes, it's a wonderful snapshot of a time gone by.
George Michael's Faith is a cathartic album of confessionals from someone dealing with not just rampant success but someone coming to terms with whom he was. Above all else, any great music comes down to how it relates to its audience and how it holds up over time. Faith is the amalgamation of George Michael attempting to prove to the world he was more than a pretty face and simultaneously expunging his inner demons. It's sexy, serious and hits the sweet spot few albums can as a whole. From the playful "I Want Your Sex" to the nod to the past "Kissing a Fool" the album attain pop perfection. This is more than mere nostalgia hitting me but a collection of songs that resonates beyond the 1980's. There are mischievous confessions ("Monkey"), clear-cut declarations ("Faith") and masterful moments of sheer brilliance ("One More Try"). This album is sexual as it is spiritual and this new remastered special edition reminds us of the greatness of not just this debut, but of Michael's career as well.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
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In Tribute: George Michael's Faith Deluxe Edition