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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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Listen to “Still Think About You” by thisisNAMASTE

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The last time I featured thisisNAMASTE on the blog, the track I spoke about, “I Like Your Face“, got a play on the reality TV show Love Island UK. Which was a pretty, awesome thing to happen. And so lovely for Natasha Marie Stewart (AKA thisisNAMASTE) to receive this kind of recognition. It just goes to prove how relatable her lyrics are and that she hits the right vibes with a pop audience that spans all ages. In follow up, as summer finally kicks in. She is out with another glorious, shimmery bop. Come rain or shine, “Still Think About You” provides the taste of Summer in song form. Delivered by a joyous, uplifting melody and thisisNAMASTE’s straight-up glowing vocals.

The lyrics are self-explanatory on this new banger. It is a break-up song of sorts steered by lyrics that spin on a positive axis. “We said forever, but I’m thankful we’re done. Now I’m number one” she sings. While further issuing a bolder statement. “Boy, don’t get it confused, now your gone, yeah, I’m thriving, no point in denying I still think about you.”

Listen on Apple Music

Another way of looking at the track is that it also celebrates new beginnings. But that’s just the way of thisisNAMASTE’s open and honest pop brilliance. She goes out of her way to empower through her lyrics. Giving us much to take on board and be optimistic about set to a glittery pop beat. “Still Think About You” is a must-have track on your summer playlist. So catchy, melodically led, pop perfection. In fact, she has now amassed a plentiful supply of beautifully crafted songs where each one directs us with ease to become addicted to the repeat button.

Still Think About You” continues to solidify thisisNAMASTE’s presence in the pop realm. In that, I know who to come to when I have cravings for super catchy and accessible pop. thisisNAMASTE always sees me right.

Connect with thisisNAMASTE
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thisisnamaste
Twitter: https://twitter.com/thisisNAMASTE
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thisisnamaste/





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‘Lost’ Donna Summer song drops ahead of new remix album

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I’m A Rainbow: Recovered & Recoloured
I’m A Rainbow: Recovered & Recoloured

The late Donna Summer is back with a new track from her hotly-anticipated next album.

The song, You To Me (Oliver Nelson Remix), is the second single to be taken from I’m A Rainbow – Recovered & Recoloured, a 10-track album which completely re-imagines Donna Summer’s ‘lost’ 1981 LP I’m A Rainbow mixed by a host of international producers; Junior Vasquez, Le Flex, Figo Sound, Jean Tonique, Ladies On Mars and Oliver Nelson – who has just signed to Atlantic Records – have all added their touch. 

Forty years ago this September Donna Summer’s new album I’m A Rainbow, produced by Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, was weeks away from being released. During 1981 the musical landscape was changing, production techniques were developing and Summer’s label wanted a more R&B-influenced album and took the decision to withdraw the album just before its release.

It languished in the Geffen vaults until it was eventually issued in 1996 as an 18-track CD with no fanfare at all.

Fast-forward to 2021 and I’m A Rainbow has received a fresh coat of paint. 

Album curator Michael Neidus on this second track to be taken from the album: “You To Me has always been my favourite song from the album but have always wondered how it would sound slightly more up-tempo. Whilst in Los Angeles in 2017, I kept hearing this cracking dance track over the poolside speakers. ; it was a remix by Swedish producer Oliver Nelson, of Habits (Stay High) by fellow-Swede Tove Lo.

“It had been a UK Top 10 hit but somehow I had completely missed it. I kept hearing Oliver’s remix, then discovered his other work and knew that I’d want him to work on a future project; You To Me just seemed the right track. He delivered a great version, respecting the original but adding new elements to it and giving it a little more pace. I suggested to remove the original intro and introduce a drum rise, which he did and it gave more impact to the start of the track, especially stylistically in a Love Unlimited vein. Within two seconds its warmth made it sound like an old and familiar friend.”

You To Me is available now with I’m A Rainbow – Recovered & Recoloured following on 8 October.

‘I’M A RAINBOW – RECOVERED & RECOLOURED’ 

CD TRACKLISTING 

I’m A Rainbow [Junior’s Shiny Rainbow Remix] 

I Believe (In You) [Figo Sound Version] – duet with Joe ‘Bean’ Esposito

Back Where You Belong [Jean Tonique Remix]

You To Me [Oliver Nelson Remix]

Don’t Cry For Me Argentina [Ladies On Mars “Buenos Aires” Remix]

Sweet Emotion [Le Flex Remix]

Brooklyn [Ladies On Mars “Child Of Rhythm” Remix]

Romeo [Ladies On Mars “Luv NRG” Remix]

Highway Runner [Ladies On Mars “Street Race” Remix]

Leave Me Alone [Ladies On Mars “Independence” Remix]

Brooklyn [Ladies On Mars “Child Of Rhythm” Remix-Radio Edit]

I Believe (In You) [Figo Sound Radio Version]

Highway Runner [Ladies On Mars “Street Race” Extended Mix]

Brooklyn [Ladies On Mars “Child Of Rhythm” Extended Remix]

Romeo [Ladies On Mars “Luv-NRG” Extended Remix]

 

LP TRACKLISTING 

SIDE ONE

I’m A Rainbow [Junior’s Shiny Rainbow Remix]

I Believe (In You) [Figo Sound Version] – duet with Joe ‘Bean’ Esposito

Back Where You Belong [Jean Tonique Remix]

You To Me [Oliver Nelson Remix]

Don’t Cry For Me Argentina [Ladies On Mars “Buenos Aires” Remix]

 

SIDE TWO

Sweet Emotion [Le Flex Remix]

Brooklyn [Ladies On Mars “Child Of Rhythm” Remix]

Romeo [Ladies On Mars “Luv NRG” Remix]

Highway Runner [Ladies On Mars “Street Race” Remix]

Leave Me Alone [Ladies On Mars “Independence” Remix] 

 

SIDE THREE

Brooklyn [Ladies On Mars “Child Of Rhythm” Remix-Radio Edit]

I Believe (In You) [Figo Sound Radio Version]

Highway Runner [Ladies On Mars “Street Race” Extended Mix]

 

SIDE FOUR

Brooklyn [Ladies On Mars “Child Of Rhythm” Extended Remix]

Romeo [Ladies On Mars “Luv-NRG” Extended Remix]

 

Donna Summer: Encore boxset review

 

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Watch “are you?” by zeph

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I have New Zealand singer-songwriter Thomston to thank for an early introduction to Maryland-based bedroom pop auteur zeph (Zephani Jong). She featured on Thomston’s recent, dreamy offering “Magnolia” (review here), providing a splash of liquid gold harmonies to the sonically driven piece. She is also the latest artist to be snapped up by Neon Gold Records as a part of their fantastic roster of artists and has released her first single on the label. The catchy and fresh alt-pop track “are you?” arrives ahead of her forthcoming debut EP slated for arrival in the Autumn.

Her vocals are shimmering and hypnotic, with a notable breeziness about them. The best way of describing her style is that it is really, quite indie-pop angelic. And she is into creating vibes from the ground up. The debut “are you?” is written, recorded, and produced by, Zeph herself. She also exudes some quirkiness, which I love to see in pop artists (in fact applies to people in general). I am, loving that quite a lot of quirkiness has spilt over into the music video also. It is sweet and adorable to watch and is making me want to jump into the screen to join her because it looks like Zeph had the best kind of fun making this Erik Rojas (Isaac Dunbar, Rich Brian, Jessie J) directed video.

Listen on Apple Music

The track endearingly broaches the topic of relationships. Does this guy still want to be with Zeph? If only he would quit the mind games. Speak up, reciprocate with some answers and not be so vague and distant, Zeph politely inquires.

Zeph has a voice that is sweet enough to charm. Yet her honest, straight to the point style of lyricism is her weapon of choice and the embodiment of her signature style. This is the winning formula that culminates in the whimsical banger “are you?“. Dive into this fiercely cute pop track now. I guarantee after just one listen, it will be in your head for the rest of the day.

Connect with Zeph
Twitter: https://twitter.com/zephanijong
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/zephanijong/





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