One listen to Symphonica reminds – instantly – that George Michael should be getting headlines for his voice, but it’s been years since that happened. Instead he’ll make the headlines for anything else – but most frequently it’ll involve drugs, a car or a public loo. All three at the same time? Easy! He must have been a godsend to Murdoch’s cruellest – they wouldn’t have even needed to tap his phone.
Recorded a couple of years ago on yet another “comeback” attempt, Michael is hardly pushing himself here, it’s essentially a live update of Songs From The Last Century. If that was the first time he was – really – taken seriously the worry here is that this might be the last time he takes himself seriously. That’s always the worry with George. But by George these songs shine, dusted off, resplendent – he breathes new life into My Baby Just Cares For Me and The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, makes a new standard of Let Her Down Easy and Praying For Time and straight-faces his way through Brother Can You Spare A Dime where those grubby tabloids could so easily have had him singing that in another setting, unflattering photo to match.
One of the great tragedies of pop music has been watching the slow, deliberate self-destruction of this man, public image usually in tatters even when his voice somehow remains immaculate. Listening to his best work, the lukewarm leftovers, anything he offers – well it’s always tinged with an extra sadness, that he’s like the walking dead artistically, spiritually.