The first new music since the artist died last year turns out not to be completely new after all – but Nile Rodgers gives pep and freshness to 1990 B-side Fantasy
The last time George Michael launched a big new single, it was at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympics in London, where he chose – to the chagrin of many – to perform the deeply middling White Light rather than any number of his solo or Wham!-era classics.
There’s rather more poignancy today as another new single arrives – the first new music since he died aged 53 at home on Christmas Day last year, after suffering from a heart condition, dilated cardiomyopathy. There was a tremendous outpouring of public grief and fondness, as people remembered Michael’s kindness (he would frequently make philanthropic gestures large and small, planned and impulsive) and his rockstar foibles – such as the time he drove into a Hampstead branch of Snappy Snaps. Adele and Chris Martin led the musical tributes, at the Grammy and Brit awards respectively. While recent years hadn’t yielded classic material, it was a major wrench – the loss of an artist with a rare emotional clarity who took queerness into the mainstream.
Hopes that it would be a brand new classic are slightly dashed – it’s a rework of Fantasy, a 1990 B-side included on Freedom! ’90 in the US and Waiting for That Day in the UK, later featured on a 2016 reissue of Listen Without Prejudice. But it’s now been given a substantial refresh. Where the original is driven by a 90s breakbeat and some even more 90s horns, this new version has been pioneered by Nile Rodgers, who George apparently commissioned before he died. “I hope we make the fans proud of the amount of love we put into it,” Rodgers has said, tweeting to those who expressed mixed feelings about the posthumous nature of the work, “You SHOULD have mixed feelings. No one’s heart was dragged through emotional ambiguity more than mine. Tears, uncertainty, happiness & love”.
A classic Rodgers choppy guitar line sits under a freshly minted pop-house rhythm, as Michael’s voice is pleasantly – and quite radically – mangled, before segueing into the original’s top line. Its status as a B-side rather undersells it – Michael’s secret weapon is a half-sung style of rapping that gets a good airing here, and the “if you ain’t got time for me, I’ll find another fantasy” pay-off is suitably fabulous. The sigh that closes the chorus remains a glorious bit of petulance.
Perhaps there isn’t a Prince-style vault waiting to be raided, and there needn’t be, given the strength of his existing work. Fantasy meanwhile is a reminder that George Michael could invest a dancefloor with sex and wit like few other pop stars.