Death, pre-echoes of his eventual coming out, AIDs, casual sex, the emptiness of celebrity: George Michael’s third solo album Older, released eight years ago, is a high watermark of exquisitely poisoned MOR. His fourth album (not counting a best-of and a covers set) is similarly reflective but frustratingly lacking in urgency. With Outside, a triumphantly ‘fuck you’ hit in the wake of his arrest for cruising in a public toilet in LA, he had the world at his feet. What’s gone wrong?
There are some lovely moments, especially the delicate piano chords of the title track (very David Sylvian, actually), which feels like a gentle echo of “Praying For Time”‘s visionary panorama. “American Angel” is a pleasingly straightforward paean to George’s boyfriend. “My Mother Had A Brother” (which could be an outtake from Older) appears to dig up painful family history to moving effect. (Indeed, the mid-paced not-quite-disco/not-quite-funk of Older’s “Fastlove” provides the blueprint for much of Patience.) But with 14 tracks stretched out over almost 70 minutes, at times Patience requires a healthy dose of exactly that. Many of the songs exhaust their melodic possibilities after a couple of minutes and then spend twice as much time vamping breathily. Trouble is, certainly on initial listens, few of the melodies are really strong enough to warrant such longueurs?and while the idea of luscious digital funk unravelling endlessly on a schedule unconcerned with pop’s tyrannical three-minute rule is enormously enticing, in practise, as the nth track blithely treads water for what seems like several years, the cumulative effect is somewhat draining. This is the downside of George’s writer/arranger/producer onanism: Patience desperately needs an editor.
There are some odd choices, too. Blair-baiting, underperforming former single “Shoot The Dog”‘s vocal?a loose approximation of, presumably, Dubya’s Texan twang?is mixed bizarrely, almost inaudibly, low. “Flawless (And You Know It)” appropriates The One’s sublime digital disco hit Flawless rather in the way Mariah Carey’s “Loverboy” ransacked Cameo:pointlessly, with barely a song and little more than cooing strung over the original track. “Shoot The Dog” also interpolates, for no obvious reason, a substantial chunk of The Human League’s “Love Action”; it must all make sense to George. The bassy lurch of “John And Elvis Are Dead” and, particularly, the Timbaland/Neptunes stutter of “Cars And Trains”, prove at least that he’s been listening to contemporary R&B, but serve largely to make you wonder what Patience might have sounded like if George had let an edgier producer take a knife to it.
A deeply average George Michael album probably isn’t going to provoke many tears in the world of Uncut. But the sound of someone who has proved himself more than capable of making elegant, adult and subversive pop music of immensely broad appeal simply marking time is ultimately everyone’s loss.