When it comes to describing a vocalist like George Michael, similar words are universally used. Words like “flawless”, “emotive” and “rich” seem to fall easily from the opinions of many and the same can be said about the Wham! and solo icon’s live performances, from those who have been lucky enough to catch the musician on tour over the years.
There was a very lengthy break between George Michael’s tours prior to 25 Live back in 2006/2007. Not one for craving the spotlight, his self-confessed desire to be a recording artist only has kept the star behind closed doors during new album releases over the decades, leaving the music he creates to speak for itself without the need of promotional activities like photo shoots, world tours and music videos – essentially all that comes with a new release. Thankfully the Faith hit-maker has put those issues to one side and emerged from his live performance hibernation, taking to the worlds stages quite extensively over the last 6 years. The first major tour of recent years was his 25 Live greatest hits spectacle that took him around the world performing his most successful hits from his famous catalogue in 2006/2007, but more recently he went back on the road to deliver some of his lesser performed pennings and covers for his successful Symphonica tour.
Having been fortunate enough to have seen George on his Symphonica tour over two dates at London’s famous Royal Albert Hall, I was particularly keen to hear the record and journey down memory lane with the track-listing that the singer had performed on this tour. As a long time George Michael fan, I was also particularly interested in owning a record like this with Symphonica serving the musician and fans as his very first solo live release to date.
Though the album is a live record, the tracks have had a little extra attention applied to them in the recording studio with the late Phil Ramone at the co-producers helm, a legendary music maker who had previously worked on records by the likes of Gloria Estefan, Paul McCartney, Billy JOel, Elton John and Aretha Franklin among many others.
Within the collection there are notable solo hits lifted from the superstars repertoire in including Praying For Time, A Different Corner, Cowboys & Angels and John and Elvis are Dead from his last studio release, Patience. These solo hits sit confidently alongside powerful renditions of some of music’s finest works including Elton John’s Idol and Let Her Down Easy, originally performed by Terence Trent D’Arby and currently serving Symphonica as its lead single.
The album also contains some of the covers that he had recorded for his 1999 covers collection, Songs From The Last Century such as a memorable version of Roberta Flack’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. Whether it’s bringing the houses down with his seemingly effortless vocal delivery on Brother Can You Spare a Dime or setting a sombre scene with the breathy You’ve Changed, one thing can be said for certain – the songs chosen for this record will not disappoint.
Of the tracks on the Symphonica album, a few numbers have been omitted for whatever reason. A cover of Rihanna’s Russian Roulette, one of the highlights of the show in terms of the modern cover versions, as well as Freedom 90 have both been left off the record along with other tour highlights including Kissing A Fool, his cover of the Amy Winehouse hit Love Is A Losing Game and the up-tempo Wham! classic, I’m Your Man. There were enough tracks excluded from the record to have quite easily made the record a 2-disc set and although the 17-track deluxe edition of Symphonica comes with the addition of You Have Been Loved, Going To A Town and Roxanne, there were enough songs performed on the tour to have easily made a double disc release. Despite this, Symphonica was one of the best shows I had been to in recent years and the collection certainly satisfies.
When he began his music career in the eighties, acts like George Michael had a very short shelf life and so to still be receiving releases from a musician who has transformed himself over the decades from teenage pop pin-up to a musician with icon status is an example of his ability to move with the times and keep on delivering spectacular releases after 3 decades as one of music’s most celebrated artists. He certainly wears the war scars of the fickle pop industry but this has never stopped him from delivering an enviable repertoire of timeless classics and song writing masterpieces to his fans and Symphonica is just another example of his exceptional talents as a songwriter, vocalist and performer.