[Today: The changeling…]
I recently picked up Iron & Wine’s latest album, Kiss Each Other Clean, and while I wasn’t immediately blown away, like I was by its predecessor The Shepherd’s Dog, I plan on giving it several more spins before coming to any final conclusions. But one thing that did grab my attention was that in a few places, Sam Beam (the artist behind the Iron & Wine name) sounds quite a bit like George Michael. How a freak folk artist from the 00s ended up sounding like a pop crooner from the 80s and 90s is a mystery to me – enough that I had to dig up a George Michael album to confirm the comparison.
It’s worth taking a few minutes to explain why I have George Michael’s Listen Without Prejudice in my record collection. Not because I have anything against him — I actually think he’s one of the more interesting characters of the last few decades, and I’m delighted that Iron & Wine, of all artists, has finally given me a chance to reflect on his music — but because Listen Without Prejudice was released in 1990, which might just be the absolute low point for LP sales in the US. I have an ironclad rule that I buy ANY records I find that were released between 1989 and 1994, because those LPs might be among the rarest modern releases on vinyl. Demand was then so low for the format that any LP released during those years couldn’t have been pressed in numbers exceeding 5,000.
So when I saw Listen Without Prejudice at a local flea market for one dollar, I jumped all over it, and then filed it away, thinking it’d be ages before it ever actually hit the turntable. And then I listened to the new Iron & Wine, and found myself pulling LWP out of the stacks and dropping the needle. One listen confirmed that parts of Kiss Each Other Clean actually do sound like George Michael, but it also reminded me that ‘Freedom’ really is a unique and smartly constructed song.
It’s difficult to think of another tune that’s such a mea culpa from artist to audience. As a member of Wham!, Michael was one of the poster boys of MTV during the 80s, but here he apologizes for selling out his talents for the prospect of fame, and promises to be more true to his gifts in the future. It hardly sounds like the makings of a big hit, but ‘Freedom’ is undeniable. The fact that the Iron & Wine track that most sounds like Michael is called ‘Glad Man Singing’, and comes off like a response to ‘Freedom’ only heightens my suspicion that something’s happening here.
Perhaps even more odd is Kiss Each Other Clean’s final track, ‘Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me’. It’s a poppy, very Iron & Wine thing for about half the song, before it shifts into a dark dirge and Beam disappears into a phone booth, only to reappear as Maynard from Tool. Maybe my ears are playing tricks on me, but with his latest album, Sam Beam seems to be shape-shifting…
Listen: Glad Man Singing [Iron & Wine]
Listen: Freedom [George Michael]
Listen: Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me [Iron & Wine]