It's been nearly two weeks since the death of the pop icon George Michael, but many are not done mourning. The Wham! legend carved a massively successful and influential career for himself, spawning some of music's biggest hits. Michael was most noteworthy, perhaps, for his contributions to the LGBTQ community. He may have been uneasy about it at the start, but he slowly became more comfortable with his own sexuality and stood as a beacon of hope for others who fall in line with him.
George Michael did, however, want to be known for something more than a pop sensation. He wanted to be more than they guy who was part of Britain's biggest synthpop duo or the guy who sang 'Faith.' Thus came the maturer sound of Life Without Prejudice, Volume 1. This record was Michael's way into a stronger songwriting direction, as well as a becoming a generally stronger musician.
George Michael's back catalogue is undoubtedly impressive, but Life Without Prejudice marked a turn in it. Right from the start, with 'Praying For Time,' you can tell that Michael had a new conviction. The synthetic soundscapes have a much more refined, old-fashioned style to them that's immediately striking. The track is modest, not trying to sound flashy at ay point. It's slow moving, but what's truly the high point of the track are the vocals. Michael sings dramatically above the soothing instrumental, the first verse crooning "The rich declare themselves poor / And most of us are not sure / If we have too much / But we'll take our chances / Because god's stopped keeping score," and while it may be a bit cheesy, it's definitely an attempt at reaching a different message.
Maturer sounds were further explored in tracks like 'They Won't Go When I Go,' a dark piano ballad that builds slowly and darkly, hauntingly spiraling up with choirs to create a truly dark retrospection. Michael channels some jazzy and bluesy deliveries in this song, belting and crooning like his words are really coming from the soul. The piano plays moodily behind the noise, being the only main instrument throughout the song. He also explored lyrical maturity more in 'Cowboys and Angels' (amongst others), the song's jazzy and cinematic instrumental backing the moody whispers of "But that scar on your face / That beautiful face of yours / In your heart there's a trace / Of someone before." The most intriguing song on the record has to be 'Mother's Pride,' ringing with bleak and somber overtones amidst a sense of pride: the chorus croons "Mother's pride / Just a boy / His country's eyes / He's a soldier waving at the shore / And in her heart the time has come / To lose a son." That's enough to sum up the track in itself.
The pop bangers aren't absent from this record, though; Life Without Prejudice is versatile. 'Freedom! 90' at the beginning of the record rings with a familiar punchiness, Michael returning to his classic delivery characterized by a sort of withheld sensuality. The instrumental is very bright and genuinely poppy, the remnants of the 1980s seeping through strongly. 'Heal The Pain' also has a brighter, sweeter atmosphere than some of the album's more serious track.
Life Without Prejudice clearly isn't a perfect record; it's filled with a sense of uncertainty and it's obvious that Michael wasn't completely comfortable with this rawer approach yet. What it did show was that George Michael had talent. Life Without Prejudice showed the world that George Michael was more than just a pretty face associated with some pop songs. He had true ability to write heartfelt songs with stronger messages. Life Without Prejudice isn't his greatest work, but if got the ball rolling. Rest in peace, George Michael.
Favorite Tracks: They Won't Go When I Go, Mother's Pride, Praying For Time
Least Favorite Track: Something To Save
Rating: 80 / 100
Buy or listen to Listen Without Prejudice, Volume 1 on Amazon: