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A fascinating career retrospective with ups and downs
on November 21, 2006
George Michael celebrates 25 years in the industry with the release of greatest hits compilation "Twenty Five", a two or three-CD package that takes in everything from Wham! hits to the "Faith " era and his most recent material (depending on how long you want to spend with him).
No matter what you might think of him in terms of his media depiction, George Michael remains one of the most successful and prolific artists of our generation, and an iconic music industry figure since the 1980s.
He has been a solo star for over 20 years, during which time he has achieved international success and sold over 85 million albums worldwide. There have also been six US No.1 singles, 11 British No.1s and the title of "most played artist on British radio" in the past 20 years.
Of the two formats of "Twenty Five", the 3CD version is arguably the most rewarding, given that the third CD features some rarer tracks, the occasional cover and a solid version of "Brother Can You Spare A Dime?" that was recorded as part of Pavarotti and friends. It's mostly for the die-hard fans but succeeds in showcasing a side to George Michael that isn't always featured on the radio.
The remaining two CDs are packed with some fairly obvious choices - the best of which pick themselves. For the shamelessly nostalgic, there's the cheesy Wham! hits "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go", which has to be filed under 'so bad, it's fun' and the equally shameless "Freedom" (which those of a certain generation will probably remember singing or bopping along to).
"Last Christmas" and "Careless Whispe"r also feature (as they do at countless wedding ceremonies).
Early solo material such as the breezy pop classic "Faith" still sound fresh today and retain a timeless quality. "Faith", in particular, is arguably one of George Michael's finest creations and is similar in feel-good value to U2's "Desire" or OutKast's more recent "Hey Ya" - ie, no matter how many times you hear it, you'll still feel like dancing.
The deeper and more sombre style of George Michael is best exemplified in heartfelt songs such as "Father Figure" and J"esus To A Child", while there's a brilliant reworking of "Heal The Pain" which is performed with Paul McCartney (and never has a song title seemed so appropriate!).
And efforts like "Too Funky" and "Freeek" capably show how the artist has consistently been able to mix the ballads with funkier offerings that ensure he retains a place on the dancefloor.
But not everything George Michael has done - or still does - reaches such high standards. In fact, some tracks are downright grating. Whether it's over-earnest and even drippy ballads such as "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" (with Elton John) or new track "This Is Not Real Love", a wretched, ponderous duet with ex-Sugababe Mutya Buena, they seem to be striving a little too hard to pull at your emotions.
On the other side of the coin, "Flawless" is a fairly non-descript pop offering that is bland in the same way that so many chart hits are - it feels like a desperate attempt to appeal to younger listeners that marked a lowpoint in his career.
That said, there's still plenty to appeal to his diehard fanbase, or even more recent fans, on "Twenty Five", making this career retrospective a fascinating journey that serves to show why George Michael has remained at the top of his profession for so long.