In 1986’s “A Different Corner,” on which the late George Michael played and programmed every note, a man admits that falling in love is terrifying: “I’ve never come close in all of these years/ You are the only one to stop my tears/ And I’m so scared.” The lyrics suggests that the object of desire is a friend – “Dedicated to a memory,” the sleeve says.
While it’s hard to know what Andrew Ridgeley did as one half of the duo Wham!, the videos show what Ridgeley did for Michael: he gave the singer confidence and a self-deprecating streak, for without them how could any young male artist on the make get through “Club Tropicana”? Despite the pleasure with which Michael and Ridgeley flaunt their washboard abs and toned legs, the homoeroticism is the sexless kind, of swimwear ads in men’s catalogs.
As a sign of his marketing ruthlessness, Michael released a follow-up under the credit “Wham! Featuring George Michael,” preparing listeners for an inevitable solo career.
On Faith, which sold 12 million copies in the United States alone, George Michael also proved himself as much a master of the studio as Prince.
In “Fastlove,” his last single to hit the Hot 100’s top ten, he tries to coax a trick into his BMW because he saw “Lovin’ in his eyes.” The public dissembling stopped after the 1998 arrest, responsible too for “Outside,” a buoyant thumper whose video revels in Michael’s disgrace.
“Precious Box” is unlike any track Michael had ever released: a quiet, pulsing interior monologue during which George wonders what happened to his family, admits to feeling sick of the same faces, mutters, and, at last, politely asks a lover to strip again.
George Michael’s art had built up to this moment: a folding of his true desires into a fabric of ever-billowing grace.
For Michael, lyrics have never been meant to be taken literally.