The ’80s were kind to George Michael. He rose from being one half of the cutesy teen puff duo known as Wham to certified (to the tune of 25 million) superstar with his first solo album Faith.
The broad appeal of that release brought rapid wealth and popularity(on top of whatever Wham fame he accumulated), but on 1990’s Faith, Michael went out of his way to prove that were was more to him than tight jeans and a studded leather jacket.
The pressures of super stardom must have been taking its toll as he wanted more than anything to be taken seriously as an artist. Despite playing most of the instruments, writing, arranging and singing on Faith, George Michael was still seen as a butt shaking fluff. This time he would stay out of view as he played, sang and produced everything again with the intention of looking like the serious musician/singer/songwriter that he was or wanted to be seen as.
Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 was a drastic departure from Faith in tone and concept. Most of the songs were somber and introspective, in sharp contrast to the bubbly vibe of Faith. Despite its more adult approach, Listen Without Prejudice.. produced a hand full of hits while the album itself peaked at #2. Not bad for a pop album with high artistic pretensions.
‘Praying for Time’ the first single established a sublime acoustic environment with gloomy lyrics. The line “God has no children to come back to” may have been one of 1990’s most haunting and troublesome lyrics, yet ‘Praying for Time’ was a #1 hit on the American pop charts.
Musically, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 was Michael’s most ambitious recording. While mostly acoustic in nature, it featured lush bits of orchestration. Songs like ‘Cowboys and Angels’ highlight Micheal’s’ jazz aspirations, but it was the familiar dance pop territory of Faith that ‘Freedom 90’ reminded many of that would end up being Listen Without Prejudice legacy over time.
In all there were 5 singles, not counting the many dance versions of ‘Freedom 90’.
Nearly every song sounded inspired, be it from the Rolling Stones in ‘You Cant Get What You Want’ to ‘Soul Free’ that sounded as if it could have been from Soul II Soul. In all the album was successful, but not nearly to the level of Faith.
That could have been due in part to Michael not wanting to appear in any music videos, choosing instead to use supermodels, projections or odd film clips as stand ins. The less than anticipated sales prompted a notorious battle with Sony who no doubt wanted another Faith. to build on the successes of the last 8 or so years.
The experiment that Listen Without Prejudice represents was only partly successful if measured by sales alone (8 million vs. 24 million for Faith), but showed a glimpse of what Micheal was capable of when not distracted by the spoils of success. There was no Vol. 2, but some of its potential songs ended up on compilations later. Micheal would not release another album until 2004 with the grown up post out pop of Patience.