At first brush “A Different Corner” sounds too diffuse and tentative to count for much – the kind of single that gets to #1 when its maker is a big enough star that anything will. But this is misleading – “Corner” is wispy and cloudy because it’s an attempt to capture a particular kind of confusion and despair in a pop song. Listen more closely and its politeness – all those nouvelle cuisine dabs of keyboard and guitar – is revealed as paralysis. Michael is impotent: he’s worse off for falling in love, he would go back if he could, he’s terrified of the rejection that might follow if he goes further. A strange fear grips him: in its sketch of sensitive abjection, “A Different Corner” touches the same nerves and explores the same pitiable ground that mid-eighties indie was making its own. “I don’t understand it, to you it’s a breeze / Little by little you’ve brought me to my knees” – you could imagine David Gedge writing that!
You couldn’t imagine him singing it like this, mind you. “A Different Corner”‘s kind of wandering, choked-up slow soul would end up being a key part of George Michael’s repertoire, the style he deployed when he wanted people to know he was getting personal. It’s been the source of his worst performances as well as his best, but “A Different Corner” avoids self-indulgence by its relative concision – just two short, tightly written verses given plenty of space in a simple arrangement. The delicacy of that arrangement is fragile – even a touch like the acoustic guitar between verses on the album and video version seems to overload it. But the single mix keeps its balance between comfort and sparseness, its broken-up piano lines halfway between the wine bar’s consoling ambience and ABBA’s icy, grown-up pain. This song of disillusionment and ruined hopes is remembered as a minor single, if at all: for me it’s the best number one George Michael’s been involved with.