More than his debut album, this record strikes me as the work of a singer-songwriter, one who also happens to be an incredibly dynamic performer, and a multi-instrumentalist. I’ve only listened to Faith a couple of times, but this feels more personal. And I must say I like it more. As an aside: the fact that this album was viewed as a disappointment, because it only sold 8 million copies and subsequently sort of derailed his career, is one of the weirder things I’ve heard this week.
It’s been a couple years since I listened to Faith and so I cannot comment on whether or not these songs are catchier than those but I do sort of feel like they are better. Sure, the mood has changed, which is why it didn’t do as well, but these songs feel more adult, for lack of a better word. In part that’s because of Michael having to recon with his fame and his sexuality, and he does so in a rather thoughtful way for someone who was known as a teen idol.
As numerous people have noted, the vibe is mostly much more subdued than the previous record (and Wham’s oeuvre) and this was considered a bad thing in 1990 (in the US anyway). But it suits him, in my opinion, and it feels appropriate to the material. Even when he’s celebrating, he’s still not totally out, after all. (There is also apparently some subtext about the AIDS crisis but I don’t know about that.)
The biggest criticisms I have are stylistic and technical. I do wish he was a little more committed to soul and R&B than this pop version of it. A little more grit would be appreciated. And though the record sounds pretty good for a record made in 1990, there are still too many bad ’80s production touches, such as fake pan flute, smooth jazz sax and the like. Hell, even the piano on “Freedom” sounds like a keyboard, not a Grand. I think it’s a sample but imagine if someone had played that on an actual piano.
But, this is a mature, reflective record by a talented performer who has grown a good deal as a songwriter. It’s not my genre and the production is too of its time, but it’s good.