Major labels are competing to sign two new albums by George Michael – a new live record intended before Christmas and a brand new studio album expected next spring.
Michael confirmed rumours that he was working on two “very distinctly-separate” albums at the opening night of the Symphonica tour – a symphony orchestra-based European tour of opera houses and arena venues – in Prague almost a year to the day he was sentenced to eight weeks in prison.
Michael said: “I want to work on them both together so that, in my mind, the progress is all happening at the same time – maybe because I feel I have so much time to make up for.”
The live album will be based on the Symphonica shows, co-produced by Phil Ramone, which featured a selection of familiar hits, songs from Michael’s own history fans have never heard him sing before – including from the Songs From The Last Century album, which he jokingly referred to as “Listen Without Purchasing” – and covers of songs by other artists which have influenced him.
And he hinted that a new studio record would be a dance record “about as far away from the Symphonica idea as can be imagined”. It is not clear whether both albums will be released on the same label.
“I’m hoping to get a live album capturing this tour, capturing this incredible journey, by the end of the year,” he said. “My dream is we do the first part of the tour, release an album of that, finish the studio album, release that and maybe tour on the back of both.”
Of the new studio record he said: “I found myself writing with an incredible clarity when I first left prison – which was not something I’d anticipated at all – but I wrote the bones of four or five songs within seven or eight days and that just doesn’t happen to me.
“I love the fact that house music, which has basically been the staple of the gay world since it was invented, has been brought into the mainstream so much by Lady GaGa and even Rihanna. It makes for some exciting records. Of course, at 47 – or I’ll be 48 by the time the album comes out – pop music starts to exclude you, which is a totally natural phenomenon.
“But in reality gay men’s relationship with dance music doesn’t end at the same time that straight people’s does. So I’m not stepping into shoes just to see what it’s like. I’ve lived with that music for a long time, it’s still a big part of my life and it’s only honest to make the music that you’re excited by.”
Michael, who had previously announced his retirement from public view before his very public, well-documented troubles resulted in him serving time in prison, appears to have discovered a new lease of life, wanting to keep performing and creating.
“I don’t know one single true artist who doesn’t want that. I think very few of us get to achieve it. I would love to think that I’ll be bursting with ideas in the way that some novelists and some painters are when they are in their seventies and eighties.
“There’s no question that if you can survive the fame, if you can survive the things that go with it, you can die with a lyric coming into your head at 85 or whatever. I want to be that. I want to be able to contribute as much as I can.”
Fame was a topic very much on Michael’s mind on opening night at the 700-capacity State Opera House in Prague where he appeared emotional – causing an impromptu announcement about his split with long-term partner Kenny Goss which stole the headlines – after performing a version of Amy Winehouse’s Love Is A Losing Game. “In 30 years of making music I was never in awe of anyone until this lady arrived. The thought we will never hear any new music from her is too sad for words,” he said.
Unexpected highlights of the 26-song set included a standout version of Terence Trent D’Arby’s Let Her Down Easy, Rufus Wainwright’s Going To A Town, Rihanna’s Russian Roulette, an acoustic take of I’m Your Man/Freedom and set closer I Remember You with a harp soloist.