News that George Michael's album 'Symphonica' has gone to the top of the UK charts is no surprise to his fans, who waited with ill-concealed anticipation for his return to the spotlight.
'Symphonica' was recorded during his 2011/2012, when he showcased his vocals with the support of a fully-stocked classical orchestra. Here is our original review from George's emotional return to the concert stage, following his near-fatal brush with pneumonia...
You know when you’ve been playing tennis for ages and someone comes along and tightens your strings, so the ball pings around like it’s meant to? Or you finally refill that lukewarm water bottle you’ve been carrying around from a piping hot kettle, and you realise what you’ve been missing?
George Michael has had his strings tightened
That’s how it felt watching George Michael return to the stage on Sunday evening for his first full-length UK concert since falling unwell with a near-fatal bout of pneumonia last year.
I saw George in action last year at the Royal Albert Hall, and was convinced something wasn’t quite right. The voice wasn’t just being preserved, it was being taxidermised as he struggled through the evening. Sure enough, the next day brought a press release announcing the onset of a bad chest, an infection that would later bring him down horribly in Austria.
(Read review of that concert here...)
10 months later, on stage in Birmingham, he was a changed man. George Michael has been looking after himself, and it shows.
Starting with the purely physical, it was a slimmer, sleeker version that was bounding around in a who-knows-how-expensive purple suit, exchanged later for a similarly svelte black number. Perfectly pressed, perfect choice. He wriggled away in his shiny Mr Men shoes, every extra shimmy bringing cheers from the appreciative audience.
George Michael was in celebratory mood on his return to the UK stage after illness
Extra cause for celebration was his voice. With his Symphonica orchestra supporting his usual band, George Michael’s voice rang out, crystal clear on every note. His Albert Hall performance had seen had seen some tell-tale reining it in on the big notes of songs like Brother Can You Spare a Dime and Kissing A Fool, but there was none of that going on here. I waited nervously for the real tester in A Different Corner, but there it was… Bang. Home and dry.
But the real story of the night was his change of attitude. Of course we’d all seen George’s emotional return to London from Austria, when he’d thanked doctors and pledged to look at life differently. But you never know with pop stars, and the intervening period had also witnessed his ridiculously ill-judged Olympic performance of his new single, cannily released that same day.
There was none of that nonsense on display in Birmingham, no mention of illness or recovery – it was all about the songs, which paradoxically said much more about his revelatory state of mind. There was no current single being bandied about in Birmingham, either, instead more audience favourites on offer than previously in London, such as Freedom 90 and I’m Your Man, to complement his rich catalogue of crooning.
And of course, he can cover a song with the best of them. His version of Rufus Wainwright’s Going To A Town was enlightening and – something I’d never thought I’d write – one of the evening's highlights was George Michael interpreting Rihanna’s Russian Roulette.
It was unexpected, but energetic and perfectly fitting. And as he belted out ‘You can hear my heart beating’ the significance was lost on no one. He's back. In fine voice. In fine form. Fine to see. And forgiven for the Olympics.
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