16
Nov 09

GEORGE MICHAEL – “A Different Corner”

FT + Popular137 comments • 13,126 views

#568, 19th April 1986, video

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.

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Comments

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  1. 91
    MichaelH on 18 Nov 2009 #

    After 90 Minutes, Andy went to be editor at yahoo music, which became dotmusic. I used to see him at the football mag events in the mid-90s. Remember once hectoring some young underling of his: “Your boss used to be in The Loft,” to the embarrassment of both of them.

    Re 89 and the line about soulboys being dealt the tougher hand. Yes, I remember the desperate attempts to interest us in dull homegrown soul hero Paul Johnson, who is still plugging away, I learn from MySpace.

  2. 92
    LondonLee on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Cripes, I still have Paul Johnson’s first album.

  3. 93
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Haha poor old Paul Johnson, yes — though actually I meant stuff that really really was worth writing about and important, like the arrival of House. Dealt with, dealt early and knowledgably — and yet somehow not dealt with well, especially after the initial story. Partly because the music and the subculture didn’t fit with the narratives the readers in question favoured; but partly I think because the way those narratives were challenged was badly bodged…

  4. 94
    Conrad on 18 Nov 2009 #

    This discussion led me to take a peek a what the NME is up to now, so I have just stumbled across the NME’s list of best albums of the past decade.

    This has probably been debated elsewhere already and – apologies Tom as it bears absolutely no relation to George Michael or the state of pop in 1986 – but what a mind-numbingly awful list. The Top 20 contains not one hip hop (unless you count the streets), pop or r&b album! whhhhhaaaattt?….has the NME become completely irrelevant in the past 10 years?

  5. 95
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Nov 2009 #

    heh, it has spent a VERY long time narrowcasting, shall we say?

  6. 96
    thefatgit on 18 Nov 2009 #

    #93 I vaguely remember reading the NME’s piece on House music in Chicago around ’86. I can’t remember who wrote the piece, but I remember the way it had been written with painstaking attention to detail, I felt the whole piece was bogged down. I wasn’t totally sure of it’s relevance, by reading the article.
    With House, if you had read about Ron Hardy or Jesse Saunders, who were essentially studio-based, there was little to identify with, image-wise. Then you hear the music and it all makes sense. I found without the necessary frame of reference, it didn’t truly sink in. Upon hearing “On and On”, I returned to that piece in the NME and things became clearer.

  7. 97
    wichita lineman on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Re 94: Had to guess that list in a quiz last night and got three, having thought Kanye, Girls Aloud (could’ve been one of two) and Dizzee Rascal were shoe-ins alongside Strokes, White Stripes… Up The Bracket at no.2? I like it, but Wedding Present b-sides (upthread) is pretty accurate.

    Re 96: Snap. I was baffled by Go Go, and this new House Music sounded no more interesting. Heard Raze’s Jack The Groove a while later and realised it was the future, after all.

    Agree that QID was the consensus album, a proper classic (hailed as such, from memory, fairly soon after its release though not immediately), which even staunch supporters couldn’t claim for the debut or super-patchy Meat Is Murder. Sukrat, the title track of QID is/was pretty astonishing and sounds like nothing else on earth to me, though I can see what you mean about a certain relaxing into their role (self-referencing on Cemetery Gates). To me it just seemed like they’d hit their stride, lyrically, melodically and production-wise.

    Post QID, they also acquired a new set of fans, more laddish. I remember Smash Hits interviewing Pete Townshend before a Who gig in Brighton in 1979. He teasingly stopped to ask a young mod when the Who were on stage and was told to fuck off. Similarly I get the feeling that second-wave Smiths fans would have called Morrissey a weirdo if they’d been standing at the same bus stop.

    Johnny Black – still at Mojo. Andy Strickland not well last I heard. Were The Loft the only group to contain two writers for the weeklies?

  8. 98
    swanstep on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Just in case anyone hasn’t seen it, here’s an instrumental cover of ‘Please, Please, Please, let me…’ soundtracking one of the best scenes in _Ferris Bueller_.

  9. 99
    Gavin Wright on 19 Nov 2009 #

    As someone who started regularly reading the music press in 1995 (and stopped in about 2003), it’s always interesting to read perspectives on the NME/MM of the ’80s from people who were actually there. In ’95, in the midst of britpop’s commercial peak, very little from the that decade was given much credence – The Smiths were celebrated as precursors to/influences on Blur/Oasis et al although certainly not to the extent that Morrissey’s solo work of that year was given an easy ride. The Stone Roses too, even given the lukewarm reception for The Second Coming. (Interestingly, both groups had Best Of compilations out in 1995, as did The Happy Mondays, presumably to cash in on the success of Black Grape). That’s about it though, bar the Melody Maker’s Romo faction… So, yes, I only became aware of the soulboy/indie split much later, having assumed they had been die-hard guitar-centric all along.

    In terms of how these papers dealt with things like house music, while both magazines had their dance sections (I forget what these were called) and favourably reviewed Goldie, Leftfield and so on I don’t remember them ever trying to retrospectively assimilate any house/techno into their canon of influential greats the way they did with classic rock/guitar pop.

    Re: ‘How Soon Is Now’, for what it’s worth this has, in my experience, always seemed to be the one Smiths song that non-fans often have time for – presumably because it’s a bit more rocking, less fey and jangly than something like ‘William…’ or ‘Heaven Knows…’. It’s also more Marr than Morrissey with all those long instrumental passages which is no doubt another factor.

    As for ‘A Different Corner’, well this is the first entry in a while that I had no recollection of and upon watching the video nothing rang any bells – a surprisingly likeable and atmospheric song though. A 7 for me.

  10. 100
    Billy Smart on 19 Nov 2009 #

    Re: 97. Didn’t Furniture supply two MM journalists in the 1990s?

  11. 101
    Izzy on 19 Nov 2009 #

    In these 80s music press wars, who exactly were the soulboys who got championed? I remember seeing a retrospective of ‘awful NME covers’ where the likes of Curiosity Killed The Cat, Hue & Cry and Hipsway featured prominently – was that it?

    I suppose it’s too much to hope that George Michael was feted by the music press at the time?

  12. 102
    punctum on 19 Nov 2009 #

    “How Soon Is Now?” from the Johnny Marr perspective is the exact missing link between the Stones’ “Mona” and Simple Minds’ “Seeing Out The Angel.”

  13. 103
    Conrad on 19 Nov 2009 #

    100, presumably taken on by MM because they had brilliant minds?

  14. 104
    Jungman Jansson on 19 Nov 2009 #

    From an outsider’s perspective – both regarding the British music press and the UK as a whole – the British music scene(s)/business/press/etc seems like a frightening vortex of almost pure chaos.

    There are fractions and factions pushing this and that. New genres are invented overnight and then rapidly splinter into a myriad of sub-genres and micro-sub-sub-genres, and before you know it, everything is abandonded as a fad. Only to pop up again in a tweaked form with a new name and a new hype a few years later.

    Couple this with a penchant for the continual rewriting of musical history (if you can even use that as a monolithical term) and you have something that is fearsome to observe, let alone try to follow or understand. Blink and you’ll miss an entire movement, or scene, or hype. Which, of course, is what makes it interesting.

    It’s not that a rapid turnover, or evolution, or whatever you’d like to call it of music seems uniquely British, but the insistence on trying to label, classify and compartmentalise everything does. As does the ever ongoing quest to find and/or create the next Big Thing.

  15. 105
    thefatgit on 19 Nov 2009 #

    As a reader, during The Hip Hop wars, it was difficult to avoid the internal schism that permeated the NME at the time. Despite this, however, I found those writers from either side of the divide fiercely protective of the music they chose to champion.

    In a way, the neutral reader like me, could cherry pick from either side of the divide. What I did find odd, was when thrash metal came on the scene around this time, NME’s coverage of the Big 4 (Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer) had anyone left to write intelligently about them at all.

  16. 106
    LondonLee on 19 Nov 2009 #

    #101 “In these 80s music press wars, who exactly were the soulboys who got championed?”

    Um… Animal Nightlife? Working Week? Will Downing?

  17. 107
    punctum on 19 Nov 2009 #

    Anybody and everybody from the Redskins to Terence Trent d’Arby via Bobby Womack and the Pogues as long as they had Soul, Passion and Honesty, Performed with Real Instruments and batted for the right, i.e. the Left, side. NME totally flopped with their House coverage because most of their soulboy intake was obsessed with Rare Groove. They didn’t have the equivalent of an expert like Frank Tope on MM who knew the scene inside out and could write about it intelligently and perceptively, nor (because they turned them all down and they went to work for MM instead) did they have the benefit of the Monitor people who were able to place it in a wider (if sometimes still imaginary) context.

    The generational consequence of this of course is that the soulboys’ preferred way of singing (i.e. melismatic screeching to display how much the singer is suffering*) has now become compulsory in our Cowell-driven sub-pop age.

    *this is a go at Mariah wannabes and not Mariah herself so hold fire Lex.

  18. 108
    MichaelH on 19 Nov 2009 #

    I dunno how much the prevalence of melisma has to do with NME’s coverage of soul in the mid-80s.

  19. 109
    Tom on 19 Nov 2009 #

    #107 this might be why the NME’s dance coverage got a lot better after the soulboys had lost the hip-hop wars – Jack Barron, Helen Mead et al writing about it in 88-90 from the perspective of passionate raver converts rather than people who knew the history. (you could draw a parallel with todays divisions over the ‘hardcore continuum’, but I’m a fence-sitter on that really)

  20. 110
    LondonLee on 19 Nov 2009 #

    Most of the kids doing sub-Mariah wailing these days were still in nappies (or, crikey, not even born) when the NME was doing the soul beat.

    Maybe because I was also reading The Face back then but I saw the soul trend as partly a lifestyle thing about clubbing and nice clothes as much as it was about sweat and honesty and it was easy to go from Rare Groove and embrace House and Techno.

  21. 111
    punctum on 19 Nov 2009 #

    A sharper, hipper and braver NME would be tackling the ‘nuum now for sure. Does someone who’s outside the centre of a movement (cf. Gould/Latecomers) have a better understanding of it, and perhaps a deeper love of it, than someone who’s been in there from year zero and maybe can’t quite get the whole picture?

  22. 112
    AndyPandy on 19 Nov 2009 #

    Mark M at 69: yes but even as early as 1988/89 fragmentation of the music scene was already effecting the charts and sales were beginning to fall enough that (an often transitory) fanbase/this month’s music press hype alone could put something in the Top 10.

    I’ve just about heard of the Primitives but never knowingly heard one of their songs and I doubt a large part of this fragmentation ie the vast majority of those who were by 1988/89 buying house records/diehard soulboys knew anything about such bands unlike the Smiths who as Lee implies had by the mid-80s become part of the general pop consciousness (which was just about to disappear forever)enough to at least be known by soul/funk/mainstream pop/whatever else fans (even if it was because they were loathed so much by many such people).

  23. 113
    Mark M on 19 Nov 2009 #

    Re 112… Possibly – I’d need to see the maths on an act needed for a top ten hit in spring 88 versus spring 86 to know more. Incidentally, almost all the Smiths fans I knew at school took to rave in a big way…

  24. 114
    Andy Pandy on 20 Nov 2009 #

    that really surprises me as there was such a feeling of antipathy to contemporary guitar music back then on the dance scene (and possibly because of what was seen as their whining self-pity the Smiths were held as its nadir). Of course this antipathy was only true to a certain extent as for swathes of the acid/house then rave scene the “rock world” existed almost in another musical universe which aside from the already touched upon kneejerk dislike of the Smiths very rarely imipnged on each other.

    And the idea of loads of Smiths fans on the M25 at South Mimms in 1989 waiting for “the phone call” sounds as surreal as a group of 1976 punks waiting in the queue at the 100 club discussing the “finer merits” of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s latest album.

  25. 115
    Mark M on 20 Nov 2009 #

    Re 114: I’m not sure whether that last bit is a joke, but I’m sure lørd sükråt wötsît would tell you that there were lots of punks dying to lovingly discuss ELP if they thought they could get away with it. Anyway, plenty of time to talk about rave in three/four years’ Popular time.

  26. 116
    Mark M on 20 Nov 2009 #

    Re 114/5: but while I’m at it – the reason Che Guevara was an idiot is that he failed to realise that almost all revolutions are made possible by large and temporary coalitions of people who for a brief potent moment believe (almost certainly mistakenly) that they have a common goal.

  27. 117
    Glue Factory on 20 Nov 2009 #

    Re:114 – although, given that in ’78 Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s latest album would have been Love Beach, maybe not some many merits to discuss.

  28. 118
    lonepilgrim on 20 Nov 2009 #

    this thread has been a revelation for me – I realise I’ve never much been overwhelmed with enthusiasm for jangly indie bands (although if you’d asked me at the time I think I would have thought i did – if that makes any sense) and when I do I like ’em it’s usually with a girl singer. I bought ‘This Charming Man’ as a single but I preferred Sandie Shaw’s version of ‘Hand in Glove’ – the only Smiths album I owned was ‘Hatful of Hollow’ on vinyl and I’ve never bothered replacing it or adding to it.
    I think the reason may be the bands/singers personas remind me too much of myself – I prefer my pop stars larger than life – and I prefer pop music to sound exotic, syncopated and/or more intense than real life. There was a leaden sense of kitchen sink realism about The Smiths which just doesn’t excite me.

    Like Lee my musical tastes were shaped by The Face at the time – particularly David Toop who was a champion for Prince, Luther Vandross and Hip-Hop and a wide range of other stuff.

  29. 119
    LondonLee on 20 Nov 2009 #

    I hate to say it, but Robert Elms’ ‘Hard Times’ piece in The Face opened up a lot of music to me as well. And, yes, I wore old ripped 501s with a studded belt for a while too.

  30. 120
    AndyPandy on 20 Nov 2009 #

    re 114/115: I picked ELP because aren’t they still supposed to be pretty much irredeemable unlike most other groups that the punks were supposedly rebelling against which have since been rehabilitated.

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