Sunday, April 9, 2017

This Is The Way Wham! Ends: Not With A Wham!, But With The Whimper Of Leftovers

Did Wham! even have to make an official break-up announcement? This might have been the most redundant break-up announcement of all time. From Wikipedia:
Michael was keen to create music targeted at a more sophisticated adult market rather than the duo's primarily teenage audience and therefore, Michael and Ridgeley officially announced the breakup of Wham! in the spring of 1986. Announcing the breakup, Michael said: "I think it should be the most amicable split in pop history."
Well sure! What was Ridgeley going to do? Refuse?
At London's Wembley Stadium on Saturday 28 June 1986, Wham! bade goodbye to their fans and each other with an emotional embrace at the end of its final concert. 72,000 people attended the eight-hour event, which included support artists, on a scorching hot day in London.
And the cosmos sighed just a tiny little sigh that warm summer day. Which leads us to the critical question: What do you do when your duo is splitting up and you've got a pile of random, incoherent leftovers in the can? The answer: For the UK market, tack the new songs onto Sides Three and Four of a double-LP greatest hits collection, and for the US market, slap together one more final "album" from a combo of new songs and stray odds and ends!

Sounds like a good plan to me. And so, Wham! didn't release a final album proper so much as 66.6% of a final album. In the UK and most of the globe, grieving Wham! fans received a greatest hits package called The Final, while in North America and Japan, they had to console themselves with the "album" Music From The Edge Of Heaven. Remember that one?

Imagine, if you will, a world in which "Careless Whisper" had never existed. Most of Wham!'s farewell material exists in such a world. In the minds of most George Michael-loving Americans, the true follow-up to Make It Big wasn't Music From The Edge Of Heaven, but Faith, in the same sense that the true follow-up to True Blue wasn't Who's That Girl, but Like A Prayer. George Michael fans are not easily fooled.

All right, well let's see what we've got here.

"I'm Your Man" was the biggest, if not the best, hit from this batch, charting at #1 in the UK and #3 in the US. It kind of sounds like a re-tread of "Freedom," which was just a retread of every Motown single from 1966, and its chorus of "If you're gonna do it, do it right" sounds like a retread of The S.O.S. Band's "Take Your Time (Do It Right)," but keep your expectations low and you'll have a good time. The video finds Wham! accidentally being booked at London's historic, and yet insultingly small, Marquee Club. Listen to George bitch to his manager over the payphone: "Eight million albums in the last six months, I don't understand why on earth we're playing at the Marquee." Also, don't miss the sleazy scalper with an odd (Caribbean?) accent: "Want ticket? Beautiful band, man, Jorge Miguel!"

"A Different Corner" was another one of those "Careless Whisper" deals where the song appeared on a Wham! album but was credited to George Michael on the single - even in North America! No "George Michael featuring George Michael" business this time. Although it was another UK #1 hit (and a US #7), I can't help but feel like he found a discarded Yazoo backing track in the dumpster outside the studio and recorded a vocal over it. It's like his way of saying "Hey everybody, I'm a sophisticated adult now" was to put as little instrumentation into the song as possible. I dunno, as super-minimalist George Michael songs where he plays all the instruments and where the video features him sitting alone in a room go, it's no "One More Try."

As a rubbery Prince pastiche, "Battlestations" could be considered a proto-"I Want Your Sex," complete with a "sexy George whispering" intro and a "random sexy woman whispering in French" outro, but it looks like the campiness meter was still resting around 5 or 6 at this point and hadn't been turned up to the necessary 9 or 10. I keep expecting Prince to chime in with "You don't have to be rich to be my girl" any second:
Monday was the worst day
And Friday wasn't my day
But Wednesday was the best day
Because on Wednesday night we made love
All I'm trying to give you is a good time honey
Why d'ya have to keep on playing games with my head
Used to be your baby when you had no money
Now we spend more time in battle
Than we ever do in bed

With its peppy horns and bass-voiced doo-wop intro, "The Edge Of Heaven" (promoted as Wham!'s "farewell single") sounds like the sinister step-child of "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." According to Wikipedia, "Michael has said the lyrics to the song were 'deliberately and overtly sexual, especially the first verse'. The reason for this, he says, was he thought no one would care 'because no one listens to a Wham! lyric. It had got to that stage.'"

Oh the injustice! Oh the inhumanity! No one was listening to Wham! for the lyrics! Fine, all right, so George snuck something outrageously explicit into it, thought he'd show his fans how stupid they were, eh? Let's see what X-rated nastiness he got away with:
I would lock you up
But I could not bear to hear you
Screaming to be set free
I would chain you up
If I'd thought you'd swear
The only one that mattered was me, me, me

I would strap you up
But don't worry baby
You know I wouldn't hurt you 'less you wanted me to
It's too late to stop
Won't the heavens save me?
My daddy said the devil looks a lot like you

You take me to the edge of heaven
Tell me that my soul's forgiven
Hide your baby's eyes and we can
You take me to the edge of heaven
One last time might be forever
When the passion dies
It's just a matter of time before my heart is
Looking for a home

I'm like a maniac, at the end of the day
I'm like a doggie barking at your door
So come take me back to the place you stay
And maybe we can do it once more

You say I'm dangerous
But don't worry baby
I get excited at the things that you do
And there's a place for us
In a dirty movie
Cause no one does it better than me and you
Wait. Where was the "overtly sexual" part again? "I would strap you up"? Eh, pretty mild. "Maybe we can do it once more"? "I'm like a doggie barking at your door"? I've heard worse in cereal commercials. Let's just say that, with "I Want Your Sex," George would finally recognize the wisdom of not beating around the bush.

So how did the record label fill out the edges of Music From the Edge of Heaven? Let's see ... a little "Wham! Rap '86" remix here, a little "Last Christmas" there, toss in an unreleased live song from the Beijing concert, and voila! Bon voyage, you noble soldiers of fortune. Professor Higglediggle writes:
Situated along the marginal divide between "farewell album" and "retrospective collection," the disjointed material assembled for the Music From the Edge Of Heaven and The Final releases further places Wham! at an ever-shifting artistic intersection of displaced cultural signifiers. The duo's refusal to generate a proper, ideologically unified "album" signaled their relational defiance to the mechanization of heterogeneity. Its schizophrenic mimesis is not generally noted in reviews, the All Music Guide referring to the US edition as "More of a hodgepodge of tracks than a coherent album," a judgement that conveniently ignores the duo's dogged commitment to avant-garde theory of the post-war period and the Situationalist International. Although one could argue that Wham! have been given just credit in many respects, in this particular respect, one could argue they warrant reevaluation, although we could not necessarily advocate a hollow formalist analysis of this type.

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