Sunday, April 15, 2018

"Faith": Too Much Butt, Not Enough Rockabilly

In October 1987, the world was waiting for words of healing, words of insight. The globe cried out for a single phrase that would reach into the souls of the lost children like a thousand beams of holy divination. One man was ready to rise to the occasion. One man had been to the wilderness and had returned with the wisdom that spoke to the age's deepest wounds. Here ... were this man's words:

"I've got to have faith-uh-faith-uh-faith-ah!"

Full confession: I think the compositional elements of "Faith" are strong. The lyrics, if not overly-complex, are effective and memorable. The chord progression is pleasing. The usage of the Bo Diddley beat in a dance-pop context is surprising and fresh. I think the song deserved to be a big hit.


I've always sort of vaguely felt that "Faith" doesn't quite ... groove the way it should. It doesn't quite move the way it should. In other words, I'm not sure it was recorded as well as it could have been. It's too stiff. It's too meek. I sensed this as a kid. I sensed it when I listened to Faith in the late '90s. I sense it today. I recognize that George was aiming for a rockabilly "pastiche" that wouldn't necessarily be "actual rockabilly", and yet ... the song doesn't ... rock enough. It sounds like he just recorded a demo version with a cheap drum machine on it and thought, "Eh, good enough." With a ballad like "One More Try," you can get away with that, but sometimes you need to actually rock to do a rock song, you know? I feel like "Faith" should sound more like, say, Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love." Now there's a rockabilly pastiche that really rocks. Instead, it came out more like an off-brand "Footloose." For instance, when some actual guitars show up for an actual, supremely twangy guitar solo in the middle, it makes me think, "Yeah! That's what this baby needs right here." In summary, I feel like the song was sort of a missed opportunity, in a way that his other big hits were not. But I'm not too worked up about it.

And I certainly can't complain about the vocals. George was one of those rare singers who could inject a bit of silliness into his singing without undermining the emotional intensity of the performance. My two favorite bits would have to be the "Bey-bae-uh!" at 1:50, followed by the "Mm-beyyyyyyyyyyyy-bae-uh!" at 1:59. Too bad nobody bothered to hire a drummer.

Then there is the infamous video, which may be better known by its alternate title, "George Michael's Butt." Yes, George Michael's butt appears in a starring role. If your idea of a great music video is one that features many, many shots of George Michael's jiggling hind quarters, then this, my friends, is your Citizen Kane. Granted, there are also numerous shots of the singer's other body parts, including his legs, his crotch, his glove-encased hand (question: Can you play guitar with a glove on your hand?), and even, occasionally, his face. My understanding is that George is extremely sexy in this video, but I'll have to take heterosexual women and homosexual men at their word. I feel like the video might have been just one big opportunity for George to turn himself on. Question: Do you think George Michael jerked off to his own videos?

Here's what I want to know: what's with the leather jacket that says "BSA" on it? I associate that acronym with a certain youth group that was not terribly fond of men of George's particular persuasion. Talk about a subversive political statement slipping under the radar! In the end, the budget for the "Faith" video must have stood in stark contrast to the amount of money that the song ultimately earned, as the tune with a video consisting of George Michael's butt wiggling in a white room next to a jukebox became the #1 Billboard hit of 1988. Perhaps the blow-dried record label skeptics, viewing the rough cut in an air-freshened conference room, just needed to have a little more  ... "faith" in their recording artist's butt. Professor Higglediggle writes:
Michael had confronted the hyperpotent reductivism of Judeo-Christian dialectics in prior works ("Last Christmas," "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)") but with "Faith" he (re)contextualized the (pre)existing symbolic domain in slightly more bold, if equally problematic, terms. With its conflation of the spiritual and carnal, the song situates itself in an almost Augustinian duality, Michael observing "When that love comes down without devotion" he recognizes the papal necessity of "showin' [her/him] the door," although he acknowledges the binary co-optation of gender norms with the doubtful aside "Well it takes a strong man baby," as if the "strong man" and his own marginalized position were ethically incompatible. The video renders this moral failure in stark visual terms by contrasting the spectral symbol of the old order (the metal crucifix dangling from Michael's right ear lobe) with the earthly symbol of the new order (Michael's gluteus maximus).

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