Bobby. Art. Dave. Sonny. Ike. J-’Stache. Curt. Paul (Humphreys, that is). Everly (no, not that one, the other one) … Of all the lesser halves of pop’s greatest duos, certainly none is held in such ill regard as Andrew Ridgeley. From the earliest days of Wham! in 1982, the most common question associated with poor Andrew was, “What’s he even doing there, really?” His presence in the videos for “Wham! Rap,” “Bad Boys” and “Club Tropicana” seemed designed to do little more than provide a comic, or at least cosmetic, foil for that other guy in the group – you know, the one who was doing all the vocals.
The hype machine of the moment played up the close friendship between the two, and noted that Wham! never would have Made It Big had it not been for Andrew’s confidence and sex appeal when his mate was still a shy, ugly Greek boy named Georgios Panayiotou. But even then it all seemed like the publicists were protesting too much — and in 1984, when “Careless Whisper” appeared in the U.K. credited only to “George Michael,” the pop world’s mind was made up: Andrew Ridgeley was a show pony, nothing more. Was that guitar even plugged in?
Cut to four years later, when George – having won the race and got out of the place — went back home and got a brand new face for the boys at MTV. In the process, of course, he secured six Top 5 hits and sold 20 million copies of his first solo album, Faith. Andrew wisely steered clear of the music biz in the face of the George juggernaut – but he was ready to jump back in by the time Michael came off the road and decided (once again) that the way he played the game had got to change (oh yeah). Thus, in 1989-90, Ridgeley quietly went into the studio and fulfilled Sony’s contractual obligation that he record a solo effort of his own.
It’s worth noting that solo pop hackery was actually Andrew’s third career choice, following failed attempts to make a living driving Formula 3 race cars in Monaco and hamming it up in Hollywood. Indeed, many were convinced that he would be quite content to have the word “lothario” permanently attached to his moniker, considering the way he purportedly gallivanted around the Riviera once he’d finally gotten that exclamation point removed from his sphincter. Yet there it was in mid-May 1990: the black record sleeve on the shelf of your local shop, and that Mona Lisa half-grin announcing that Andrew was back, he was serious, and he was ready for his own turn at world domination. Or whatever the equivalent might be for a guy who didn’t seem to be doing anything for the last act that featured his mug on an album cover.
And the music? Well, it was – what, you don’t remember? You never listened to Son of Albert? Neither did I, to be honest … not more than once, anyway, and then only while standing at a listening post at Tower Records. It was enough. Enough to make me think, “He came back to do this? An album that bears no apparent kinship whatsoever with Wham!? Bad hair metal with guitars that ride higher in the mix than his own voice? He came back to be a third-rate Enuff Z’nuff?” (Not that first-rate Enuff Z’nuff was a bad thing, but I digress.)
Son of Albert hasn’t aged any better than it sounded at the time. It was the sound of a guy going through the motions of pop record-making – attaching himself to a songwriter/producer (Gary Bromham) and then sniffing after a trendy sound … unfortunately, in this case, a sound that had stopped being so trendy the minute Guns ’n’ Roses arrived a year and a half earlier. From the trite cock-rock of “Shake” to the … well, to the trite cock-rock of “Red Dress” or “Big Machine,” Ridgeley managed to make music that practically no one wanted to hear.
And practically no one did. “Shake” crept onto the lower reaches of the charts both in the U.S. and U.K., while the album as a whole did even worse. There were a couple of interesting things about Son of Albert: Michael sang backup vocals on “Red Dress,” Ridgeley’s brother played drums, and the album included a (horrid) cover of the Everly Brothers chestnut “Price of Love” (ironic!). Still, considering the best thing on the album is a remix of “Shake” that barely features its vocalist at all…
Ridgeley wasn’t helped by the fact that, even as he prepared to release Son of Albert, the music industry was reeling from suspicions that Grammy winners Milli Vanilli hadn’t actually sung on their album Girl You Know It’s True. The notion of multiplatinum pretty boys with no discernable talent reflected badly on poor Andrew. And once Son of Albert sank without a trace, Sony quickly abandoned any thoughts of a follow-up, and Andrew instead took up … surfing.
In fact, it was through this new hobby that Ridgeley found the headlines that had eluded his solo recording career, when he and his brother contracted a serious illness while surfing in a sewage-infested stretch of British coastline. (Must … resist … jokes.) After recovering, Ridgeley became a leading spokesman for the nonprofit group Surfers Against Sewage, which has spearheaded efforts to remove e coli and other bacteria from British waterways. He also became a husband, to Bananarama chanteuse Keren Woodward, and an unassuming property owner in the Cornwall region of southwest England.
So, weep not for the musical career of George Michael’s former musical partner. But consider this: When writer/producer Marc Lawrence dreamed up the Hugh Grant/Drew Barrymore vehicle Music and Lyrics a few years ago, his 5-second pitch to Castle Rock probably went something like this: “What if Andrew Ridgeley had talent?”