Today we roll back the time and remember George Michael's 1996 album "Older," released on 14 May 1996 in Europe by Virgin Records and Aegean Records one day later in the United States. While George’s stock fell in America around this time, "Older" was massive in Europe, especially the UK, where George’s hit-making mojo returned. Five and a half years after "Listen Without Prejudice," with his high profile legal battle with Sony behind him, Michael returned with "Older" and casually delivered six singles, all of which made the top 3 in the UK singles chart. The album deserved some serious millions as it sold a mere 6x platinum wholesale in the UK and just a couple of decades of our time. The US at that time wasn’t nearly as interested in Experimental George.
The beautiful, heart-wrenching lead single “Jesus To A Child” directly references the sad loss of Feleppa with a spiritual message that brings comfort even in the moments after the tragedy. “Well, I’ve been loved, So I know just what love is, And the lover that I kissed, Is always by my side,” he sings with the air of someone who feels blessed to have experienced intense love, however short the time period may have been. Then we have “Fastlove,” the second single, which is indicative of the concepts of “Jesus To A Child." with reactionary consequences, which were Michael in search of disposable love without any strings attached. It also happens to be the most upbeat number here, a kind of cynical triumph that sees him moving on, albeit in a somewhat destructive fashion. Lyrically and musically, the songs are career-defining achievements. It is an extremely mature experience that masterfully builds on the misfortunes bestowed on those five years leading up to the album. It’s slick, brooding and serves up some of the finest vocal performances of his career.
"Older" is dark and was prompted by the death of Michael’s partner Anselmo Feleppa in 1993. The album's content is centred around that event, but because Michael wasn’t out at the time, few in music criticism or fans knew the cause for such gloominess. Colossal ballads “Jesus to a Child” and “You Have Been Loved” clearly reference Feleppa’s death. Industrial jazz masterpiece “Spinning the Wheel” addresses the fear of contracting HIV, while “The Strangest Thing” and “To Be Forgiven” describe a deep, unsettling vulnerability. Stylistic consistency is possibly its greatest strength as 9 of 11 tracks are written in a minor key. The pop and jazz camps each claim about half the tracks, and only two tracks could be reasonably described as up-tempo. Present are a few hip hop and house beats and quite many muted trumpet and saxophone. Michael’s vocals are excellent as always, controlled and clear.
Often misunderstood, more than anything, “Older” boasts conviction, raw emotions portrayed to the public with dignity, and a passionate display of the state of mind this complex composer found himself in the heart of the 90s. If any of his recordings deserve a re-evaluation, then this is the one that will have a greater sense of creative achievement for the listener than many of his previous releases.