Patience is a problematic album from a lot of perspectives. But not from the perspective of a Johnny-come-lately listener. As an out-of-the-box listening experience, it rates up there with Faith and Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1. But it’s problematic for me, because George Michael‘s music was such a huge part of my youth and I’ve continued to love it as I’ve gotten older; in many cases, I find albums like Patience and Prejudice more enjoyable now than I did when they were released… and now this is, by default, his final album. It was problematic for George Michael, as well: the album was recorded over the course of four years, with the initial single, “Freeek!” released two full years prior to the album.
Patience is his last studio album. It seems hard to believe that someone who was so ubiquitous in the 1980s all but vanished after this album was released on March 18, 2004. His stated plan at the time was to release future music online and encourage fans to donate to charity rather than pay to download his albums. Unfortunately, this never came to fruition.
Researching this record, I was surprised to find that it was met with mediocre to unflattering reviews upon its release. Listening to it front-to-back for the first time in awhile, I was struck again how much this could have been Faith Part 2 with the right promotion and marketing. Let’s start with the lead single: “Freeek!” has been described as “I Want Your Sex” on steroids, which is a pretty fair encapsulation. George Michael had said that it is intended as a condemnation of internet pornography, but between the thrusting beats, blatant lyrics (“I’ll be your sexual freak of the week… your one fuck fantasy…“), and S&M Blade Runner video, it really seems to be on board with whatever gets your rocks off.
That was in 2002, two years before Patience released. In 2004, in anticipation of the album finally hitting shelves, Sony released “Amazing,” a gorgeous, gauzy, uptempo, major-key love song. Its accompanying video actually featured George Michael in full on Faith regalia, right down to the leather jacket, jeans, and acoustic guitar. It’s a hyper-catchy pop confection that gets lodged in your earhole and doesn’t let go.
One of my favorite songs on the record – and the song from which the above tagline comes – was also released as a single, though it was the last single off the album and didn’t hit until a year-and-a-half later. “John & Elvis Are Dead” is a quiet rumination on trying to make sense of a world that doesn’t make sense anymore. It’s couched in a melodramatic tale of a friend waking up from a coma to find that things aren’t the same as they were, but beyond that, the message resonates, particularly today in light of the many musical legends we lost in 2016. If Jesus Christ is alive and well, then how come Prince and David are dead? Citing the savior of mankind also telegraphs a loss of faith in all things good.
George Michael’s Patience is a perfect mix of dance cuts, ballads, pop, and love songs, including odes to both his partner at the time and to a lover who had died years back. Songs both elated and mournful vie for attention throughout, making this album a bit disorienting at times, at least for those of us who invest emotion into the music and lyrics of the artists we love. So, yeah, it’s a problematic album for any number of reasons. But it’s a good problem to have.