Some clever person once observed that you can recognise a great cartoon character from its silhouette. To a large extent this is also true of great pop stars. Sometimes a victim of his own earnestness (his second solo album may as well have been called Listen Very Carefully I Will Say This Only Once), there is no doubt that around 1987-1988 George Michael was a Great Pop Star. His desert boots, designer stubble, jeans and leather jacket remain one of the most iconic images in pop history.
Every Great Pop Star needs a Great Pop Statement – Madonna has Like A Prayer, Michael Jackson had Thriller and George Michael has Faith. You wouldn’t accept a lift from the man after 10pm at night, but you can’t take that achievement away from him. Faith has its flaws but generally they are charming ones. Sure it has dated; ‘Look At Your Hands’ wears its late ’80s production values heavily, and if it all occasionally gets a bit cringeworthy – no-one needs to hear George essaying his “sexy bay-bay’s sexy bod-ay” (on ‘I Want Your Sex’) – elsewhere the album exhibits the kind of socially conscious lyrics one associates with Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Goin’ On’ or Stevie Wonder’s ‘Innervisions’.
George Michael likes to think of himself as something of a leftie, and if that has occasionally come out a bit wrong – ‘Wham Rap’s waffle about there being “soul on the dole”, the video for ‘Club Tropicana’, which looked for all the world like a Thatcherite wet-dream – here ‘Hand To Mouth’ redresses the balance a bit by having a sly dig at the American dream (“I believe in the gods of America/ I believe in the ‘land of the free’/ But no-one told me that the Gods believe in nothing/ so with empty hands I pray…”). Ironically Faith was a mega-hit in the US and almost 25 years on it isn’t hard to hear why. ‘Hard Day’ would fit seamlessly onto Prince’s Sign Of The Times – an equally accomplished album released the same year.
The material contained on Faith was strong enough to establish its creator as a major player worldwide, and fuelled a celebratory two-year long world tour. It spawned six whopping great singles, ranging from the gospelly title track to the jazzy ‘Kissing A Fool’ and the more dancefloor oriented ‘Monkey’. Best of all is ‘Father Figure’, the very acme of atmospheric pop, it’s produced by George Michael but beats Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois at their own game. The music is throughout hi-tech, the re-issue package is fittingly lavish and glossy. This is luxurious sophisto-pop at its finest.