Deluxe Edition Bonus Material:
It was meant to be a towering triumph, one that built upon the blockbusting success of Faith (1987). And globally, the late George Michael's sophomore LP Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, released in September 1990, was just that. America, however, was resistant to the record's wiles and it showed in its pale commercial and critical performance here. The American critical cognoscenti wrote off Listen Without Prejudice was an indulgent bid for additional, post-Wham! credibility. It became their lot to “put that British pop upstart in his place.”
It did not help matters that this album marked the beginning of a long battle with Michael's record label, Sony Music, too. Though Michael would ultimately lose to Sony—he accused them of soft promotional support, amongst other sizable infractions—it laid the groundwork for other major label acts to push back against industry constraints. Twenty-seven years later, that American snobbery has given way to widespread appreciation for Listen Without Prejudice, synching up with the initial global consensus that the LP is an undeniable masterpiece.
Faith's modish, urban-pop soundscape—with polite downtempo intermissions—was exchanged for an awe-inducing amalgam of funk, folk, jazz and reggae on Listen Without Prejudice, produced and written by Michael. Focusing on the album's lyrical content— which touched on life, love and Michael's sexual orientation—the songs here remain as genuinely arresting and exploratory now as they were in 1990.
Highlights from the original collection include the revival soul-pop strike of “Freedom ‘90,” an autobiographical take of Michael’s rise to prominence in Wham! and the pitfalls that followed. “Praying for Time” has relinquished none of its topical power, especially in these fitful times. Then, there is “Cowboys and Angels,” a brooding, after hours jazz cocktail of remorse and reflection that upstages, in lyric, arrangement and vocal, Michael’s previous jazz-pop knockout “Kissing a Fool” from Faith. The only track not to bear Michael's stamp is “They Won't Go When I Go,” a stark, but beautiful cover of the Stevie Wonder gem from 1974's Fulfillingness' First Finale.
Following the equally lush 2011 multi-format remaster of Faith, Listen Without Prejudice has been revived this week in 3-CD+DVD, 2-CD, vinyl and digital editions. The triple-CD package includes the remastered original album, Michael's 1996 MTV Unplugged live LP, a collection of various remixes, B-sides and unreleased tracks from and surrounding the Prejudice period, and a DVD comprised of bonus promotional content. The other formats include the remastered album and MTV Unplugged performance.
The rarities disc promises to rivet longtime fans. It includes several tracks from the aborted Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 2 which was to return Michael explicitly to the dancefloor. “Too Funky,” originally included on Red Hot + Dance (1993)—a star-studded AIDS benefit project—was originally set for inclusion on the scrapped secondary installment along with its B-side, “Crazy Man Dance.” Though “Too Funky” has been anthologized on prior Michael retrospectives, it joins, for the first time, the early ‘90s house and urban-pop grooves “Crazy Man Dance,” “Do You Want to Know” and “Happy” to tell (some of) the story of the follow-up to Listen Without Prejudice that never was. Originally recorded in the late '80s, “Fantasy" has been revamped here by the iconic Nile Rodgers and serves as the reissue project's promotional single.
Out of the five studio albums recorded in his lifetime, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 has held onto its solemnity and musical might, elements continuing to resonate with audiences, even today.