For the past few years, George Michael may have been living a lie. When 1998's brilliant "Outside" single was released, Michael seemed to have shaken off the seriousness which had artistically crippled him for a decade. Here, finally, was a revitalised, liberated, self-satirising pop star, able to poke fun at himself and the LAPD simultaneously.
Subsequent Michael records may have been rare, and frankly patchy; 1999's covers album, "Songs From The Last Century", the "Freeek!" and "Shoot The Dog" singles from 2002. But at least they were free from ponderous soul-searching. Comin' out of the closet had allowed Michael to relax and contemplate something beyond his navel. Or so it seemed. "Patience", unfortunately, finds this frustrating talent torn between semi-fashionable fun and po-faced dreariness, with the latter coming out on top after 70 long minutes.
For his first proper album since 1996's pensive "Older", Michael occasionally shows an awareness of what has been happening at the high-earning end of R&B.; "Cars And Trains", the best and randiest track here, clearly nods towards The Neptunes, with staccato synths and a faintly distracted air, while "John And Elvis Are Dead" has an appealing wooziness that brings to mind Timbaland's productions for Tweet.
"Freeek!" reappears, still sounding like rather lumpen g-funk pastiche, as does "Shoot The Dog", Michael's similarly misfiring hybrid of anti-Bush jokes and bootleg remix culture. At least he nervelessly reprises the bootleg trick on "Flawless (Go To The City)", singing over The Ones' fantastically camp disco hit from 2002 to unusually jolly effect.
But as Michael would doubtless point out, happiness is fleeting. For the most part, "Patience" is hard work. One meandering ballad follows another, each one overlong and labouring under the illusion that emotional profundity is more important than a decent tune. Michael's candour is certainly impressive: "Round Here" and "My Mother Had A Brother" brood on family history, dealing with Michael's childhood and the suicide of his (possibly gay) uncle.
On "American Angel", meanwhile, he sings to his lover, "I don't think that I could love and lose again. I don't think I have the strength" - quite moving in the context of the death of his former partner, Anselmo Feleppa. Sympathy evaporates, though, during "Through", an epically humourless ballad in which Michael whines about the persecutors � journalists, you suspect � who tirelessly fill their days plotting his downfall.
Such tearful confessions sit awkwardly with the glassy and aimless music which dominates "Patience". The knack of writing memorable songs eludes Michael nowadays, or else he finds it beneath him. The Ones' "Flawless" is the only really catchy tune, and even then Michael feels compelled to flog it to death, stretching it out for twice as long as is necessary. The precise sound which he continues to favour as a producer is something of an anachronism, too, a kind of Pro-tooled upgrade of '80s adult soul.
Michael is plainly aware of contemporary R&B; and house, so it would've been fascinating if he'd followed that up and enlisted one or two guest producers, or had the courage to add a few more edges to this thoughtful, polished, thoroughly dull album. Giving his psyche a going over is evidently no problem to Michael. If only he were so rough with his music.