Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1/MTV Unplugged
by David Chiu
If Faith, George Michael’s 1987 blockbuster solo album, was a reaction to the glossy candy-sweetened pop of Wham!, then his follow-up, 1990’s Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, marked his progression as a serious-minded singer-songwriter. In hindsight, there was so much pressure for Michael to deliver a record that could equal or eclipse the mammoth success of the pop and radio-friendly Faith and its smash singles. Instead, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 aimed for something deeper and maturer, although there were a few tracks on Faith that conveyed those qualities (“Look at Your Hands,” “Monkey,” “Hand to Mouth”). For the most part, Listen‘s songs ere more somber and reflective than upbeat, even at crossing into folk, jazz and Latin/bossa nova styles. It’s not to say that Listen was not accessible: on the contrary, tracks like the now-iconic “Freedom! ’90” and “Soul Free” still had the grooves that marked Michael’s previous work—but it’s the more subdued tracks like “You Have Been Loved,” “Waiting for that Day,” and especially “Praying for Time” felt more organic; the latter song especially was an orchestral lush affair whose commentary on society’s inequalities seem so much relevant now as it did back in 1990. And soul is operative word when it comes to tracks like the bouncy “Heal the Pain” and a powerful cover of Stevie Wonder’s “They Won’t Go When I Go.” Not surprisingly, Listen Without Prejudice, while it sold in the millions, was nowhere near the gigantic numbers that Faith achieved; but to his credit, Michael didn’t make Faith II, putting artistic integrity first over commercial aspirations. With his passing late last year looming large over his body of work, this new reissue puts into perspective on what an underrated work it is. The set is complemented by a 1996 MTV Unplugged performance that is now seeing the light of day—a greatest hits of sorts from his Wham! and solo days, including “Everything She Wants,” “Fastlove,” and “Father Figure”—showcasing what a tremendous live performer he was. Rounding out the performance is an updated remix version of the funky Fantasy (which didn’t appear on Listen but a B-side to “Freedom”), featuring the great Nile Rodgers on guitar. It’s a track that shows what made us admire George Michael—his ability to make us move and dance; it’s also a reminder of how much we lost.