Thursday, 9 July 2009

1986 George Michael: A Different Corner

Although Wham! were still a going concern at this point in time, George Michael had announced their imminent spilt and was now marking time until his solo career proper could kick off. Perhaps to give advance warning of the path he intended to be following, 'A Different Corner' was the second single he issued under his own name whilst still in partnership with Andrew Ridgeley.

'A Different Corner' is a beast unlike anything Michael had put his name to to date. Sure,'Careless Whisper' had marked a change of pace from the feelgood Wham! stuff, but 'A Different Corner' takes a sharper turn again into territory not previously charted by the duo. Gone are the upbeat melodies and 'everything's ok' lyrics to be replaced by a gentle palette of almost ambient electronics that seem bereft of any human hand in their creation and with Michael's unmistakable voice being the only tangible link to the past.

To Michael's past anyway - 'A Different Corner' leans heavily on the arrangement of 'Can't Get Used To Losing You' that Robert Mersey provided for Andy Williams, but here the plucked staccato strings are replaced by slowed down electronic pulses sounding like individual full stops that mark the end of something winding down to a standstill. Soft and woozy, yet never boring or ponderous, the backing has just enough structure in its dreamlike atmosphere for Michael to hang his words of uncertainty and despair in love:
"Take me back in time maybe I can forget. Turn a different corner and we never would have met. Would you care? I don't understand it, for you it's a breeze, little by little you've brought me to my knees. Don't you care?"

Yet for all that, 'A Different Corner' doesn't really move, and it doesn't really move because it doesn't really convince. Michael wrote, sang, performed the music and produced this single as a genuine auteur, yet the end product plays as if he were studiously undertaking an exercise in how to write a song that was the antithesis of anything he'd done before. Slightly cynical, the whole package from the sparse and wintry scene on the sleeve, the elegiac video of George looking moody in a white room to the overly self conscious vocals and fusspot production suggests that this is all coming from the head rather than the heart. And it's a head where there is no place for oversized 'Choose Life' T shirts. On that level at least, 'A Different Corner' has a slightly hollow centre where its soul should be.

It's easier to be confident about a change of direction when you're confident of your audience, and it's interesting that whereas Wham! tended to be all about the optimism of youth where love was always joyous, both Michael's solo singles on the trot detail what happens when it all goes wrong. A sure sign that he was maturing as a songwriter and that perhaps he wasn't all that concerned if his previous audience didn't come along for the ride.

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