George Michael: This Is How (We Want You to Get High) review – punchy, poignant pop

This posthumous single for the film Last Christmas is a downbeat choice to soundtrack a romcom but will appeal to fans hungry to hear the singer’s voice again

Of all the high-profile rock and pop casualties in 2016, George Michael has had the quietest posthumous career. David Bowie and Prince’s deaths led to an unlocking of the vaults and a scouring for unreleased material: the fourth box set of late 1960s Bowie demos in the space of a year will shortly be released; as will a “super-deluxe” version of Prince’s 1999, out this month, that inflates the original double album to 10 discs. But Michael’s estate has largely kept things low-key, releasing only a solitary posthumous single the singer was working on before his death and a version of his 1990 solo album Listen Without Prejudice that includes a live show. Now there’s a new single, This Is How (We Want You to Get High), recorded the year before the singer died. Whether it signals an opening of the floodgates of unreleased music remains to be seen, but somehow you doubt it.

George Michael: This Is How (We Want You to Get High) – video

For one thing, Michael was not a particularly prolific solo artist – five studio albums in 29 years, one of them a collection of covers – although there’s always the chance that he discarded a lot more music than he released. But for another, This Is How (We Want You to Get High) sounds like a very odd choice for the soundtrack of a feelgood Christmas romcom, suggesting they couldn’t find anything else. The film Last Christmas, written by Emma Thompson, was approved by Michael in 2013, but the solitary new song amid the classics is, for all its propulsive acoustic guitar and Giorgio Moroder-ish synth, pretty downcast: a saga of paternal dissipation and its effects on children that comes with a side order of what sounds like the die-hard weed-smoker’s penchant for contrasting the benign effects of their chosen intoxicant with the destructive impact of booze. “I never picked a fight in my life, or raised a hand to my wife, or saw my children as a thing to bully,” affirms Michael.

It’s very much a product of the 2000s, both in its sound – the vocals have a liberal application of Auto-Tune – and in the fact that it’s not the kind of nailed-on, giant-chorused pop smash that Michael once turned out in profusion but were less numerous on his final studio album, 2004’s haunted and troubled Patience. This single is more compact and punchy than that album’s gauziest moments, but the mood is similar. That said, if you want poignancy, This Is How (We Want You to Get High) has plenty of it, albeit by default rather than design. “I was always trying to get my life together,” offers Michael at one point. “I guess we always knew it would be.”

It ends with a lovely ambient coda, prefaced by Michael “dreaming of a summer day that never came … it’s hard to be more than we’ve seen”. Of course, the likelihood is that he isn’t breaking character or singing about himself, but its posthumous release gives those lines a different kind of weight to the one you suspect their author – and Last Christmas’s directors – intended. For fans, meanwhile, just hearing his voice again, singing something they’ve never heard before, is doubtless enough.

Contributor

Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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