Retro Modern “Retro” Pick: George Michael’s “Freeek!” (single)
Introduction: “Freeek!” was George Michael’s debut single from his then-forthcoming fifth LP, Patience (2004).
The song was remembered for its denser utilization of R&B-pop and its coarse lyrical approach to sexual politics ― a genre and theme Michael had stamped into his music in a unique way throughout his career. Its immersive, futuristic music video was also controversial.
Synopsis: George Michael’s fourth studio album, Songs from the Last Century (1999, Virgin), concluded his second decade of recording on a stylish high. While it had been met with a mixed critical reception, the record maintained his sales supremacy in his native United Kingdom; more importantly, Century let Michael’s creative batteries recharge to prepare for his fifth LP and first record of original material since Older (1996, Virgin/DreamWorks).
However, Patience didn’t materialize right away. It was introduced to listeners by two bold, preliminary singles in 2002, “Freeek!” and “Shoot the Dog.” The former impacted on March 18, the latter July 29. The pair made international rounds too, barring America, which hadn’t seen a commercial George Michael single since “Star People ’97” five years earlier.
“Freeek!” was a continuation and a departure for the singer.
It followed a similar path as his past dance-floor entries that mined funk and disco, like “I Want Your Sex Pt. 1,” “Too Funky,” “Fastlove” and “Outside.” Michael modeled the sound of said funk and disco to the production aesthetics of the period, which by 2002 had turned to the post-hip-hop dance vibe echoed by knob-twirlers like Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins and Timothy “Timbaland” Mosley. But steering the production himself, Michael was careful to only tip his hat politely to a trend, not follow it.
To those ends, Michael tapped “Breathe and Stop” (by Q-Tip), “Try Again” (by Aaliyah) and “N.T.” (by Kool & the Gang) for structural inspiration. Two of those songs earmarked as samples for “Freeek!” were “turn of the millennium” urban jams, the third a certified classic. They showed Michael’s continued affection for and study of black music.
Opening with a modem’s dial-up sound, the song shifts into an aggressive, tech-funk groove, and Michael delivers his vocals with a sleek charisma. Lyrically, the song remained sex positive in its attitude, another George Michael hallmark, but acknowledged the internet’s burgeoning impact on social interaction, especially in regard to sex. Further, “Freeek!” crossed sexual orientation lines by celebrating gay and straight overtones in both the song itself and the accompanying music video.
Despite the risqué nature of the single’s A-side, the B-side to “Freeek!” was a cover of The Beatles’ chestnut, “The Long and Winding Road.” Obviously anodyne in comparison to “Freeek!,” it wouldn’t have been out of place on the aforementioned Songs from the Last Century LP.
Salacious and witty, “Freeek!” caused a commotion when it hit the airwaves in England. Two versions of its equally lascivious video, directed by Joseph Kahn, were drafted to keep one accessible for general MTV airplay. The single gifted Michael with another U.K. Top 10 charter (#7). “Freeek!” also fared well in other international markets, showing his popularity holding strong in Ireland, France, Germany, Spain and Australia.
Initially, the new music released in 2002 was represented by Polydor Records; but when Patience finally debuted in the spring of 2004, it was on Sony Music, a signal that the long-running feud with his former label had cooled. “Freeek!” (albeit in a slightly remixed form) and “Shoot the Dog” were included among the tracklisting for Patience.
Even though it was a modest commercial hit, “Freeek!” was somewhat forgotten, buried within the depths of his discography as years went by. “Freeek!” never got its due in live performance either, becoming the only single from Patience never brought to life in that context.
In the wake of the singer’s untimely death on December 25, 2016, critics, fans and the curious have delved back into George Michael’s expansive catalog. “Freeek!” will hopefully be rediscovered. Brash, fun and just a little bit rude, “Freeek!” is one of George Michael’s stickier urban-pop confections.