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Making George Michael: Older – Classic Pop Magazine

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George Michael: Older was the former Wham! frontman’s third studio album and his first in over five years… By Steve Harnell

George Michael: Older
George Michael: Older cover

It took George Michael more than half a decade to release the follow-up to Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, but spurred on by personal tragedy and a dogged defiance, he created his finest work – the expansive third solo album Older.

George himself sees the record as his most artistically accomplished, and, in his homeland, it became the most commercially successful of his career – a record-breaking six singles reached the Top 3 across a two-year span.

Older was released on 14 May 1996, three days after the Knebworth feeding frenzy that saw Oasis sell 250,000 tickets in the blink of an eye.

Britpop was at its peak, but George was in no mood to hang on to the coattails of this Anglocentric revisionist movement.

Typically, he stuck to his guns, and Older’s reference points remained his trademark touchstones of soul, R&B and pop, only this time often given a jazzier twist.

Although Michael deftly weaved in synthesised electronic touches to the up-tempo tracks and the stripped-back minimalism of It Doesn’t Really Matter, the overall ambience of Older is of a more organic record, featuring splashes of brass and occasional string arrangements.

One of the major musical inspirations – Older is dedicated to him in the liner notes – is Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim, credited with bringing bossa nova to the masses and the man behind the iconic hit The Girl From Ipanema

Even more fundamental to the genesis of the eventual record thematically is George’s late partner Anselmo Feleppa, who died in 1993.

Jesus To A Child, the almost unbearably poignant ballad that opens the album, served as the first of many tributes to Anselmo on Older.

Within a week of writing it, George was singing it in front of the Brandenburg Gate at the MTV Europe Music Awards in November 1994. “I wrote the best, most healing piece of music. It was all systems go from that moment on,” Michael revealed.

In the Freedom documentary the singer added: “The whole experience of losing Anselmo, the period of grief, roughly two years where I didn’t write a note of music [came before] the absolute knowledge that the next album I was going to write would be about grief and recovery. Older is my greatest moment.

“I sat at a keyboard and played a very simple string part, stream of consciousness rubbish comes out of my head, then I sang ‘like Jesus to a child’ and I thought ‘Oh my God, that’s him [Anselmo] and me’. I was so excited that I finally had been able to put my feelings about Anselmo into words.”

Returning to Sarm West Studios where he cut Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, this time George had Jon Douglas on board to share production duties on three tracks.

Douglas had a background in soul and R&B, having already worked with Eternal, Gabrielle and Pauline Henry (he’d later be behind hits for Louise Redknapp and team up with Sugababes, Kylie and All Saints, alongside further collaborations with George).

Douglas first met the singer in 1995 while producing Lisa Moorish’s cover of the Wham! classic I’m Your Man. Michael provided backing vocals on the sessions and the pair immediately hit it off.

Themes of grief, recovery and mortality are threaded throughout Older’s 11 tracks. The finely-honed collection came together slowly, with Michael spending three years working on the new material. 

It’s arguably the most diverse LP of his career. After the elegant opening ballad comes the upbeat, dancefloor-friendly Fastlove, which explores the theme of using promiscuous sex as escapism.

Meanwhile, Spinning The Wheel flips the theme of promiscuity to warn of its danger in an era where the spectre of HIV and AIDS remained a major concern.

Read our feature on the making of George Michael’s Faith album

Read more: Wham! – Fantastic

“For anyone who had a clue about symbolism, I was coming out,” George later explained. “Fastlove makes me laugh because it’s all about cruising and covering my pain, blunting out that pain with fast love, simple as that. There’s not one track that’s not about Anselmo or the risk of AIDS [for example, Spinning The Wheel].”

For a six-month period while he was recording Older, George felt in reasonable spirits but then discovered that his mother had been diagnosed with cancer.

She died of the disease in February 1997. Indeed, as George worked through his grief for Anselmo and worry about the health of his mother, the tone of the LP veered between searing insights into loss and devastation and a defiant sense of hope.

The bare-bones It Doesn’t Really Matter – just a beatbox, simple keyboard and a few piano flourishes – leaves George’s vocal space to breathe on a song that seems measured and philosophical about a relationship that’s now in the past.

But the songwriter’s torture is never too far from the surface. The world music vibe of The Strangest Thing inhabits a track shot through with pain where “time has been twisting the knife”.

George’s heart-on-the-sleeve lyric adds: “Take my hand; Lead me to some peaceful land that I cannot find inside my head”.

The wistful Burt Bacharach and Antonio Carlos Jobim-influenced To Be Forgiven is similarly pained (“Save me from myself”).

Read our feature on the albums of George Michael

Read more: George Michael – Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1

But Older’s story can’t be summarised as one-note wallowing in self-pity – Michael’s a far more rounded songwriter than that. Move On is a wonderful anthem of hope, with deft supper club atmospherics added to underpin the track’s jazzy arrangement.

Self-aware it may be, but this is no simplistic self-help manual. Michael’s nuanced lyrics would provide a balm for many people suffering grief in the years that have followed.

There’s spirit, too, in the confrontational Star People, where George distances himself from the showbiz pack, musing that their desperate search for fame and approbation comes from a need to fill the hole of an unhappy childhood. 

The heart-breaking You Have Been Loved – once again written as a tribute to Anselmo – is a desolate ballad of loss and a return to the idea of an unloving God touched upon in the previous album’s Praying For Time.

An ode to humanism in a cruel world, its tone is measured – a songwriter at last at peace with the traumas that have befallen him.

Free, the sweeping cinematic instrumental with nods to trip-hop that closes the album, draws the curtain on an emotional epic. “Feels good… to be free”, George whispers quietly at the end. His art had brought him to a place of peace… at least for the time being. 

George Michael’s official website

 

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Elton John announces new feature-length documentary

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Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour
Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour poster

A brand new documentary telling the story of Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour as well as the singer’s early years has been announced.

The generously-titled Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: The Final Elton John Performances And The Years That Made His Legend has been co-directed by RJ Cutler (The Oval Office Tapes, The War Room) with John’s partner, David Furnish. The feature-length documentary promises to include previously unseen concert and behind the scenes footage.

“What a thrill and an honour it is that David Furnish and I get to create this intimate and unique look at one of the world’s most celebrated artists,” Cutler told Rolling Stone. “As it has for so many others, Elton John’s music has had deep meaning for me for decades, and this opportunity is nothing short of a career highlight and privilege.”

“Elton and I could not think of a better collaborator than RJ. Cutler for a film that represents more than just Elton’s career – it’s his life,” Furnish added. “From the Troubadour to Dodger Stadium, we knew that RJ would help guide Elton’s story and its many layers in a way that feels authentic and evocative. We’re ecstatic to be working together.”

A release date for the documentary has yet to be announced, but it’s expected to get a limited cinema release before heading to streaming service Disney+.

Read more: Top 40 Elton John songs

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Listen to “This Hell” by Rina Sawayama

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Recent days have seen much talk about it. Last night pop’s brightest star Rina Sawayama launched her new era with “This Hell.” The first taster of her upcoming second album, “Hold The Girl” (releasing 2nd September via Dirty Hit). Debut album “Sawayama” saw much critical acclaim. A pivotal release, not least because of the diversity of music styles covered. Rina was initially denied eligibility for The Brits and The Mercury Prize because she is not a British citizen but has lived in the U.K. since she was a child. With the success of the album these rules changed.

Rina just literally wrapped up the stateside leg of “The Dynasty Tour” in New York. The next hot minute, the follow-up era begins.

“I’m so excited to finally share the first song of the new era, I wrote and produced this last year with Paul Epworth, Lauren Aquilina, Clarence Clarity and Vic Jamieson in a converted church. I wanted to write a western pop song that celebrated COMMUNITY and LOVE in a time when the world seemed hellish. “This Hell” is better with you.” Rina said over Instagram.

Listen on Apple Music

I love Rina’s pop chameleon ways and that we never quite know what comes next with her or the music. Although, rest assured the stylizing will be immaculate. True to form, “This Hell” when premiered last night as Hottest Record In The World on Radio One with Clara Amfo. Is another masterclass in hybrid pop, Sawayama does so expertly well.

Sawayama soaks up musical influences like a sponge. Nowhere is this more abundantly transparent than in the song “This Hell“. The outer shell of the track looks to Shania Twain, country pop and Lady Gaga for inspiration. On which Rina further adds her own power-pop twist and unshakable hook. Her pop-culture referencing in the lyrics is strong.

Flame red carpet moment. Posing for the paparazzi. Fuck what they did to Britney To Lady Di and Whitney.” She sings.

Despite their attempts to shield her from success, they soon turned about when realising, that Rina is incredibly worthy and shaking up pop like no one else. Coming out the gate fast with “This Hell“, is Rina reissuing a statement of intent. Rina Sawayama is game on!

The album “Hold the Girl” comes out via Dirty Hit on September 2nd – Pre-order HERE

Also revealed is a brand new UK and Ireland tour, for this October and including a show at London’s O2 Academy Brixton.

Exclusive first ticket access starts Wednesday 25th May – 10 am details HERE

General sale starts Friday 27th May – 10 am details HERE

Connect with Rina Sawayama
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rinasawayama
Twitter: https://twitter.com/rinasawayama
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rinasonline/





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Watch the video for the new song from Betty Boo, Shining Star

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Betty Boo Shining Star
Betty Boo Shining Star

Betty Boo has shared the video to her new song, Shining Star.

The track is the singer’s second release after her triumphant comeback back in January with Get Me To The Weekend, her first single in nearly 30 years.

Betty Boo (real name Alison Clarkson) broke through in in 1989 when she appeared as a guest vocalist on The Beatmasters’ No.7-charting Hey DJ – I Can’t Dance (To That Music You’re Playing). Under her own moniker, she released two albums, 1990’s Boomania and 1992’s GRRR! It’s Betty Boo, and enjoyed a No.3 smash with Where Are You Baby? and a No.7 hit with Doin’ The Do.

Speaking to Classic Pop in 2019 about her stage name, she explained that it came about because of certain haircut that made her look like 1930s cartoon pin-up Betty Boop.

“That’s when I started keeping that name,” she told us. “It seemed fine, cos when you’re a rapper you need to have a persona. I just decided to drop the ‘p’ because I didn’t want to get sued.”

In 2006 she formed the shortlived duo WigWam with Blur’s Alex James, though they released just one self-titled single before disbanding.

“I met Alex at the Groucho Club and we just got on,” Clarkson said. “Blur were working with Ben Hillier on Think Tank and Ben’s a brilliant producer, he thinks outside the box. I think we wanted to make it into a project, but nothing quite gelled because, to be honest with you, Alex is a really good bass player in his group, but not necessarily a songwriter, so there wasn’t enough for us to make it work as a proper project. So it was just a bit of fun really. 

“Alex and I did argue a bit, we’re a bit like brother and sister. He’d want cars picking him up, whereas I would go I’m driving myself somewhere! That was the way Blur were treated, like royalty, whereas I’m probably a bit more down to earth.”

You can read Classic Pop’s 2019 interview with Betty Boo here.

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