Earthy soul influences in concert with flourishes of electronica, lustful escape through sex and dancing, the comfort and conflict of religious salvation: A decade after he first struck out alone, George Michael’s third solo record feels like a masterful crystallization of so many of the themes that had preoccupied him in the intervening years. Which is not to say that Older resembles a victory lap of uncomplicated, creative breakthrough. Stalked by both a period of enforced hiatus (a result of a grueling two-year legal dispute with former record company Sony) and the abyss of recent bereavement (specifically, his boyfriend, Anselmo Feleppa, who died from AIDS in 1993), Michael delivered 11 tracks that radiate emotional rawness and grief-stricken yearning. There is sonic expansiveness, too, whether it manifests as arrestingly spare, smoke-wreathed jazz (“Older,” “It Doesn’t Really Matter”) or woozy, trip-hop-influenced R&B (“Spinning the Wheel”). And then there is “Fastlove, Pt. 1,” a transgressive, disco-influenced hymn to promiscuity that is all the more potent for the tides of darkness and desperation lurking just beneath the surface.

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