Songs from the Last Century
Right from the start, George Michael has always been an artist unafraid to splash around in pop music’s past. In fact, from the sly, rock ’n’ roll iconography of the Faith era to the fact that he literally bought the upright Steinway piano that John Lennon composed “Imagine” on, you could say that this urge to pay homage is one of the erstwhile Georgios Panayiotou’s most defining artistic qualities. This fourth studio album, consisting of jazz-oriented covers—released as a conscious, wee-hours palate cleanser following the mischievous, press-baiting camp of 1998 single “Outside”—is the purest expression of that tendency. True, there are songs that slyly gesture toward Michael’s relatively new status as a fully out gay man (most notably the big-band strut through Doris Day single “Secret Love”). But ultimately, Songs from the Last Century is a showcase for timelessness, vocal adaptability, and Michael’s talent for subtly reimagining even the most familiar of songbooks. “Wild Is the Wind” has a lush, filmic grandeur, while “Roxanne” (memorably accompanied by a video featuring real-life Red Light District workers in Amsterdam) recasts the straightforward moralizing of The Police’s 1978 hit as something sadder and murkier.