long with Madonna, George is the only Eighties pop icon who seems to have retained their personality and opinions through the years as opposed to becoming a generic name, but unlike Madonna George has come through his career battered and bruised. Where she strives to be up-to-the-minute relevant (but still often coming in too late) and thrives on attention, George seems to have slowly come round to the conclusion (see album closer “Through”) that he’s had enough. He’s hardly been working his arse off though, with only four albums in the nearly twenty years since he split Wham!.
His recent momentous, and portentous, decision to say that he doesn’t need any more of our money, and that he’ll be giving his future material away, will have repercussions for countless artists in later years. Mind you, George can probably happily live off the millions in interest alone that he receives, never mind the Christmas royalties; but can you imagine Noel Gallagher or Robbie Williams releasing music for zero financial return?
Unfortunately Patience is far too long to hold my attention, and nowhere near as consistent as either Older or Listen without Prejudice Vol.1, but there are moments here which surpass the strongest songs on either of those previous classics. Sadly though the order of songs here is so flawed that the structure of the album sabotages itself; the title track opener is extraordinarily unwelcoming, a bare piano piece with overly worthy lyrics which Michael can’t even bring himself to sound anything but half interested about despite his obvious concern (well, he did write it).
“Amazing” may have seemed a peculiarly subdued choice for lead single but its hooks start to dig in deep the more listens I give it. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it subtle, but the understated, smart production with sly claps and soft acoustic strumming animate the song without hanging it from a fat and obvious hook. Apart from the sine wave snatches of the 10cc-reminiscent choir, “John and Elvis are Dead” has little appeal beyond the first listen. But it’s flourishes like that which show that Michael’s production skills are impeccably toned, and reveal a greater depth to the album than the shallow ‘adult pop’ label usually affords. The hesitating beats that falter and seem to fall briefly out of time before righting themselves on “Cars and Trains” aren’t as obvious and overstated as modern rhythmic ‘innovators’ like Timbaland, but are just as attention-grabbing. The albums finest moment is “My Mother had a Brother”, a terribly terribly titled song on which he reflects about his possibly homosexual uncle who committed suicide. A rising piano leads him into a pained, wavering performance with Orbit-style bleeps going off all around him.
For a long time now, and especially since his LA ‘incident’, George Michael has been deconstructing his own media myth and quietly fighting fame from the inside of the machine, but when he hits back through his lyrics it just doesn’t work. “Shoot the Dog” is just as awful as it was when it first came out, his comedy low vocal tones and cheesy Buggles production still grating. But he really sinks things with an outrageously bad run of material that begins with “Flawless (go to the city)”, a pointless remake of The One's recent house hit, and ends four songs later on “Freeek”, an excuse for web porn puns. This irrevocably cripples the early promise of the songs on Patience, and drags it back from being a strong footnote to his career.
His most personal statement to date, but not his strongest.
Reviewed by: Scott McKeating
Reviewed on: 2004-03-18