If there was ever a time for George Michael to get his groove back, it's now. In 1990, he asked us to Listen Without Prejudice (we did, and the album is still arguably his best). Six years later, he told us he was getting Older (he was, but rather than attempt to update his sound for a new generation, his music remained retrained, mature yet provocative). Now, in 2004, he's thanking us for our Patience (or, possibly, asking us to have a bit more of it), but Patience, his first original studio album in eight years, is a mixed bag that can be somewhat of a downer. The album can best be described as one part Red Hot + Dance (Michael contributed three uptempo tracks to the 1992 AIDS compilation, including the hit "Too Funky") and one part Older.
The new house/dance tracks aren't exactly groundbreaking, but it's refreshing to hear something—anything—other than a dirge from the former father figure. Though the album's lead single, "Amazing," is catchy yet un-amazing, "Flawless (Go to the City)" and "Precious Box" are poised to be future fan favorites. Michael unflinchingly exposes the sad and lonely allure of the Web on the latter, which may be the best (first?) song about internet sex—unless you count the singer's oddly appealing 2002 single "Freeek," which also makes an appearance on Patience and takes an ever-so-slightly more satirical tone: "You got your sexy Java/You got your speed connection/Free chat, fuck that, get a little harder." It's obvious that Michael knows the comfort and connection the love machine (much like that other glowing box, the television set) can often bring.
"Flawless" is a big gay throbbing drag queen anthem that finds Michael either: (a) coaxing some young thing to come out of the boonies and reach for the stars, (b) reflecting on his own trip from small-town nothingness to big city fame, or (c) both. Funnily enough, the track follows the poignant ballad "My Mother Had a Brother," in which Michael grapples with the profound revelation that he was born on the very same day that his gay uncle committed suicide: "I swear now that freedom is here/I'm gonna taste it all for you boy." It's the one ballad that truly resonates; much of the rest of the album relies too heavily on vague or nonsensical social observation ("If Jesus Christ is going to save us from ourselves/How come peace, love and Elvis are dead?" he sings on "John & Elvis Are Dead").
There's a homogeneity to Michael's music that runs not only through Patience but as far back as Faith. It makes one wonder what his music might sound like if he'd relinquish some creative control and commission an outside producer for once in his career. Unlike Madonna, who always seems prepared to "get down" even when she's lamenting her mother's death (or the American Dream), Michael is coasting into his 40s like the male equivalent of Annie Lennox, plodding along languidly (albeit elegantly) through midlife. The previously released "Shoot the Dog," in which he openly criticizes Tony Blair and George W. Bush, is one of the few moments that evoke Michael's previous, funkier self. He's made it no secret how he feels about America, politically and professionally, yet the track has been left off the U.S. version (surprising considering that Sony is a Japanese-owned company with no ties to Disney or Jeb Bush). Ironically, Michael seems to have found love in an American man (as told on the song "American Angel")—and it's a horny Texan no less.