The public, by and large, did not respond well to George Michael’s first attempt at career suicide — he’s since found far more effective methods for achieving that goal, and all he had to do was appeal to people’s basic dislike for homosexuals – but Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 (1990), while a grandiose exercise in self-pity, contains many of his finest songs. Where previous efforts sounded like George was just going through the motions singing about universal themes, he’s clearly feeling it this time around. “Something to Save,” “Waiting for That Day” (both versions), and his scorching cover of Stevie Wonder’s “They Won’t Go When I Go” positively reek of heartache.
However, if there’s one song where George bent over backward to prove he was not the same man he was three years before, it’s “Cowboys and Angels.” For starters, it’s over seven minutes long. To a jazz-waltz beat. And he never sings above a whisper. It couldn’t be less of a George Michael song if it tried — its closest relative is the great Faith track “Kissing a Fool” — which is one of the many things I loved about it in 1990. But mainly, I loved it because it was vaguely describing what I was going through at the time.
The fall of ’90 was not a fun time for me. My relationship with College Ex #2 was wildly unstable, and it was almost entirely my fault. I was still hung up on College Ex #1, even though that relationship ended a year and a half earlier — and I was the one who ended it. (I was confused. Mistakes were made.) So when I heard George singing about when your heart’s in someone else’s hands, and how there’s a trace of someone else in the heart of your lover, I could relate. It was ridiculous that I could relate, but I could relate, and the song became strangely comforting. “You’re not to blame / Everyone’s the same,” he assured me. Of course I was to blame, and everyone isn’t the same, but I was bound and determined to be the victim of this mess I made, and George was only happy to enable me.
Such melodrama. It all seems so silly now. I wonder if George would be pleased or disappointed to discover that someone could relate to such a sad song.
That’s it for this week. Join me in two weeks when we cover a song by a Canadian quartet that Q magazine once described as “the best song Neil Finn never wrote.” Intrigued? You should be — the song is awesome.