Symphonica Album Mystery – 2012 Live Album or 2011 Studio Album?

George Michael working on the Symphonica Album

George Michael working on the Symphonica Album

A new mystery has emerged about the nature of the performances on George Michael’s Symphonica album. Were the performances mostly recorded at AIR Studios in 2011 in London, or recorded live on the Symphonica tour in 2012?  In this blog, we’ll consider the evidence on both sides of the argument.

(Update 14 March 2014 – the album is now in people’s hand in some countries. Please read the comments for a few more details taken from the credits on the album. It seems that three of the tracks on the album may be based on vocals from 25 Live – One More Try, The First Time Ever I Saw Her Face and Feeling Good. However, it seems that the credits don’t tell us anything about where most of the vocals on the album were recorded.)

The Case For The 2011 Studio Album

The first piece of evidence for this being a studio album comes from the very first official announcement of Symphonica.  In that first press release, George’s team provided a track listing detailing the date and place of recording for each track on the album.  With the exception Let Her Down Easy and Idol, every track was described as being recorded in 2011 at AIR studios (see the details of this announcement). Incidentally, those two exceptions were also listed as being recorded in 2011, at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Indeed, those early announcements described Symphonica as “George Michael’s sixth solo studio album“.

The second piece of evidence for this being a studio album comes interviews with George Michael’s technical team in the November 2011 issue of Total Production International. Here is the relevant section:

For this tour, pre-production was seemingly quite short by George’s standards. For 25 Live, pre-production time was much lengthier, including 10 days in Wembley Arena. This time, Bradshaw spent four days at Wigwam assembling, programming and testing the difficult set up. This was partly due to the fact that Michael was in the process of having the music for his new album recorded.
“We do virtual soundcheck,” Bradshaw continued. “We have a way of recording everything and playing it back.”
The new album will be produced by Phil Ramone and is set to be a classy pop delivery with heavy influences from the artists who inspire Michael.
“George has asked for the sound to be as close to the CD sound as possible,” Bradshaw elaborated. “So the easy bit is knowing what he wants, the tricky bit is getting there!”

So, in 2011, before the Symphonica tour had started, it seems that George was  well into the process of recording a Symphonica studio CD. George wanted the live sound on the Symphonica tour to sound “as close to the CD” of the Symphonica album he was recording in the studio as was technically possible.

A third significant piece of evidence comes from the fact that One More Try, which is on the Symphonica album, was never actually performed on the tour itself.  There are other pieces of evidence too, such as photographs of George in a vocal booth at AIR studios, working on the album.

So, up until a couple of weeks ago, there seemed to be no suggestion that Symphonica was anything other than a studio album, recorded in 2011, with a couple of live tracks – Let Her Down Easy, and Idol (also recorded in 2011).  But then, a different story began to emerge…

The Case For The 2012 Live Album

The first piece of evidence for the “2012 Live Album Case” came a couple of weeks ago, in the edition of Music Week magazine that had the 40-page George Michael special coverage. Tucked away in an article paying tribute to the late Phil Ramone was this quote from the album’s executive producer, David Austin,

“Obviously, with it being a live album, it was all recorded on the road, and to do that properly is always a test.

And then, today, the “2012 live album case”  was further strengthened at the official album launch in Hamiltons Gallery in Mayfair. At the launch, David Austin, who was hosting the event with journalists, was quoted as saying the following,

George contracted pneumonia and when he came back and did that run of shows… we ended up getting the whole album from maybe just those three nights… there was that energy.

That quote is pretty clear and unequivocal – that the whole album came from a run of three nights on the tour in 2012 when George made his comeback after recovering from pneumonia. It’s unclear which “three nights” he is referring to, but George’s comeback dates began in Vienna in September 2012.  The details of the explanation given today at the launch appeared to confuse The Guardian, which wrote,

Billed as his sixth studio album and the follow-up to 2004’s Patience, Symphonica is basically a slightly confused live album. On the one hand we learn that the string arrangements were recorded in a studio, and there are photos of Michael in a studio environment working on the album with the legendary producer Phil Ramone, but on the other we’re told that live vocals from each of the shows on the tour were sent over to Ramone who then selected the best ones and arranged the songs from there.

Summing Up

So there we have it. On the one hand, we have the first official announcement of the Symphonica album saying clearly that this was a George Michael studio album, along with details of when and where each track was recorded (almost all tracks being recorded in 2011 at AIR Studios in London).  On the other hand, we have the album’s executive producer, David Austin, being quoted as saying the whole album was recorded live in 2012 on the tour.  As the executive producer, David would obviously be in a position to know where and when the tracks were recorded.

Clearly, both sides of this debate are mutually incompatible – it can’t be both a studio album recorded in 2011 and a live album recorded in 2012.  What makes this a mystery is that the key sources on both sides are “official” and deeply authoritative. Somewhere along the line since the first announcement of the Symphonica album, the messaging appears to have changed. Either that, or some wires have got crossed somewhere. What’s the reality though? What do you think?

35 thoughts on “Symphonica Album Mystery – 2012 Live Album or 2011 Studio Album?

  1. Pffffffffff!! That’s my thought about this all! Pffff! I think it’s a studio album! Recorded in 2011. Except for One More Try, which was recorded in 2008 ha ha. Oh I don’t know, it’s a mess!😉

    By the way, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, was also only a rehearsal track.

    Just read the Guardian piece by the way…oops! It’s….honest😉

  2. I hadn’t noticed that The First Time Ever I Saw Her Face wasn’t performed on the tour either. The Guardian review was certainly mixed! LOL! A little bit harsh, and not really honest, I’d suggest, to compare George’s performances to X Factor performances though!

    I feel that I have no idea now where the vocals for the album were recorded. It makes no sense to me for the messaging to have changed in the way it has. Surely it can’t be so hard to get the details correct that you’d get them completely wrong in the initial announcement. But if the initial announcement was correct, why change the story now?

  3. Yeah OK, that’s not fair, to compare with the X-Factor😉

    This is what I am getting so far…or at least I think I am getting: The orchestra part, strings etc, were recorded in the studio in 2011. I noticed in the article that David is quoted, but with ….. between the different sentences. So somewhere in 2012 George has had like three shows in a row where he was in good energy. So I am guessing that it is around the Liverpool, Manchester shows, which were great, or London. They brought the recorded voice audio to the studio to go along with the already recorded audio from the studio. So it’s both recorded in 2011 and 2012. But then, there are two songs which can only be recorded during rehearsals or also in 2011. Pfffff! ha ha ha

  4. I think that’s absolutely the story as it’s being told today. If that’s correct (which it might well be) it doesn’t make much sense to me that the initial announcement had a track listing that said “live at AIR Studios in 2011” against almost all the tracks. Surely, the word, “live” refers to the VOCAL being sung live with the orchestra. If it doesn’t mean that, what does it mean – that the orchestra was recorded live by itself? Errr… how else would you record an orchestra? Also, why do things differently with recording the backing tracks at the Albert Hall in 2011, and put 2012 vocals over the top. I dunno,.. I don’t get it.

  5. I have felt that George’s voice has not been the same since the pneumonia. They made great efforts to assure everyone that it was, but if you listen to his performances before and after his hospitalization, it’s clearly different. Pay close attention to his breath support and his vibrato. His phrasing is short, almost empty at times. He doesn’t hold notes. His performance of Freedom ’90 at the Olympics was especially weak vocally. In fact, his vibrato sounded a little uncontrollable and fast, like a billy goat. In his more recent performances, his voice has a lovely tone and richness, but hearing him sing familiar songs that he’s done live dozens of times, it’s clear that he can’t do what he used to do, unless the absence of vibrato and limited range are intentional. So maybe all of the confusion is a coverup for voice issues related to his illness. Or it could just be bad media management.

  6. There was a problem with the sound on Freedom 90 at the Olympics as it was relayed to most broadcasters. When I heard him perform that, I thought (as you did), “Oh God, his voice is fucked.” However, it turns out that was a technical problem. I’ve since heard a proper audio feed, and he really sounded fine.

  7. Will have to agree with Todd! Is not the same since….been to lots of concerts, before and after. The voice sounded different, sometimes he struggled noticeably, sometimes it seemed ok. But never really as smooth as in 2011. I feel it could well be both, a coverup for voice issues related to his illness and bad media management.

  8. Just received Symphonica Deluxe and checked credits, it’s a disgrace…One More Try, Feeling Good and The First Time Ever are from 25 Live!!! What?!

  9. Re GM’s voice, to be honest it hasn’t been the same for a few years. Let’s be somewhat lenient and acknowledge that he is now 50 and voices do change over time. When you include countless spliffs along the way, it will damage your vocal cords.
    Regarding the Symphonica album. It is a stew of live shows, live studio recordings, a mark of respect to Mr. Phil Ramone, a way of keeping David Austin busy and buying some time for the next studio album.
    GM knows and realises he has THE most loyal fan base in the industry when you consider the number of years between albums. Since 2006, the start of the 25Live Tour (yes, it was 8 YEARS AGO), we have been fortunate as fans to see him perform once on stage. Something we never thought would happen again.
    My point is that I have spent so much time and money towards GM’s career over the last 33 years that I reckon I have contributed significantly to some of his legal costs over the years. In reality, his fans deserve a lot more than the Symphonica CD. Just saying!!

  10. My prediction is that Symphonica will not sell more than 2 million albums. He will be pissed off at those sales figures and he will take even longer to “perfect” his studio album. I am betting on a 2016 release. Don’t forget that GM said in his biography BARE (written by Tony Parsons – no longer a friend), that he wanted to “get back to the David Bowie and Elton John days of releasing albums every 12 months”.
    He is amazingly talented, but also a fragile character that refused to tour, refused interviews, refused video clips for a while (although successful clips nonetheless). He didn’t even appear to his own launch in London. I will always buy anything he releases even if it is 12 inch mix of his farts, but he does test the “Patience” of his fans..

  11. All tracks: Symphonica Air Orchestra, except The First Time Ever and Feeling Good: Symphonica US Orchestra. Additional Backing Vocals: Lori Perry and Sharon Perry on One More Try and Feeling Good.

    Thanks to Air Studios, London, Legacy Studios, New York, Royal Albert Hall, London.

    There is a list of musicians for One More Try…all the 25 Live people, Danny Cummings, Luke Smith, Steve Walters, Any Hamilton etc

  12. I think a lot depends on how the public react to the Symphonica documentary. There will be some pent up demand from people who went to the shows on the Symphonica Tour. If it captures the public’s imagination, it could sell more than two million copies.

    It’s not the track list I’d personally have gone for. I’d have included Russian Roulette, Love Is A Losing Game, Patience and Safe at the expense of some Songs From The Last Century covers and 25 Live tracks… but I’m assuming George knows what his record-buying audience wants much better than I do.

    I can see that he’d want to hold back Where I Hope You Are for his album of new material… although, unless the studio version is MUCH better than the live version, I think might have included that too. It’s a great song… but I’m sure he can write some other great songs for his next album.

  13. I love George Michael, but I am shocked to see he put 25 Live recordings on the Symphonica album. It’s not like I know him, normally perfectionist. And it’s not like he didn’t have enough material from Symphonica! What, did he think we wouldn’t notice? Trying to pull the wool over our eyes, maybe? I don’t understand. One More Try is a rip off the 25Live DVD! Literally!

  14. The only thing I’d say is – David Joseph (Universal CEO) has implied that he thinks The First Time Ever is his favorite track on the album. I wouldn’t be surprised if the reason for the inclusion of One More Try and The First Time Ever is because they think that these songs will help sell the album to a general audience.

    Like I say, personally, I think Russian Roulette might have done a better job than both of those at selling the album… that went over so well with audiences… but I’m also prepared to admit that George and the record company have better data on that than I do.

  15. WTF is the Symphonica US Orchestra? We never got Symphonica in the US.

    I, too, would buy the fart album, by the way.

  16. The Symphonica US orchestra is the orchestra used for studio recordings in New York. It’s the equivalent to the Symphonica AIR orchestra, used for studio recordings in London. Both are different to the orchestras used on the actual tour.

  17. @Todd ha ha ha!!

    @Remarkable, interesting how lately you seem to always try to talk straight that what is crooked ha ha. Nomatter the reason they put the 25 Live recordings on this album, it’s not very neat🙂

  18. @Anna

    Eh? Did you read the comment where I wrote, “It’s not the track list I’d personally have gone for. I’d have included Russian Roulette, Love Is A Losing Game, Patience and Safe (and Where I Hope You Are) at the expense of some Songs From The Last Century covers and 25 Live tracks…”?

  19. @remarkable “The Symphonica US orchestra is the orchestra used for studio recordings in New York. It’s the equivalent to the Symphonica AIR orchestra, used for studio recordings in London. Both are different to the orchestras used on the actual tour.”. Lovely, doesn’t that sum up the whole point?

  20. @Iggy Not sure… I guess what I’m *most* interested in, is where the *vocals* for the album were recorded, and we really haven’t learnt very much about that from the sleeve notes. I do recognise, though, that 95% of people buying the record won’t care at all where or how the album was recorded.

  21. @remarkable There is no doubt the vast majority could not give a shit. In fact the vast majority of all Live Albums are retweeked in the studio. Only die hard fans like ourselves will ever question things to this level. But, in saying that, as die hard fans of GM given he is not the most prolific artist in terms of releasing material, we are entitled to question..

  22. I don’t care where it is recorded…but don’t promote it as recorded during the Symphonica tour, when some tracks are not, in fact they are from a different tour. In a way it’s misleading, and that to me, ruins a bit of the listening experience.

  23. @Anna I can understand your frustration.I’m sure many fans will feel the same way. Your comments are totally justified..

  24. @Anna I hear what you’re saying – I was really quite surprised to see that vocals from three tracks were taken from 25 Live. It just seems a bit of a weird choice. Especially, if George had thought One More Try and The First Time Ever I Saw Her Face were important enough to include on the album, you’d have thought he’d have performed them on the tour.

    Like I say, the only thing I can think of is that the decision to include those songs was taken for commercial reasons. From an creative/artistic point of view, it doesn’t seem to make any sense at all.

  25. Thanks @Iggy and @Remarkable . I understand the thing about commercial reasons, but they rehearsed the tracks on the tour, so they could have recorded it in the Air studios at the same time with the rest, not? I just find out by the way that The First Time Ever is also a rip off the 25 Live DVD. Same audience, same everything, whistles etc.😦 Does EMI know they are selling Sony tracks? ha ha

  26. Well, I’ve the good pleasure of listening to the album for a day now and for as much as I want to be, I’m just not blown away by it.

    The standout tracks for me are Going To A Town, Idol and Let Her Down Easy…

    The rest is all a bit bland for my liking. That’s not to say that it’s bad, it’s just not what I want to hear; I’ve listened to it all on YouTube for the last couple of years.

    I’d have been much happier if the likes of ‘The Recluse’, ‘Understand’ and ‘Father Figure’ had been included. It’s all a bit melancholia for my tastes and I’m just not blown away by it, and I so wanted to be.

    So I guess I’ll just have to be patient and wait for the new (new) album, whenever that drops. I’m a ‘White Light’ kinda guy and loved all the remixes for ‘Every Other Lover’…

  27. @Anna,

    LOL! @ Sony tracks. Remember, George retains ownership of the copyright on all his recordings. It may be that he licensed exclusive commercial rights to Sony only for the video of 25 Live, leaving him free to license the audio to Universal. Or Sony might be getting paid. I’m sure Universal are up to speed on the commercial rights to all the tracks on the album.

    As for the reasons why they didn’t record new versions, I have no idea. Presumably, though, given that George didn’t perform One More Try and First Time Ever, he wasn’t happy with how things went during rehearsals for those songs. So maybe he just thought the 25 Live versions were superior.

  28. George says in My baby: happy Saturday. Credits are to RAH. DA talks about “those three nights”
    Can we agree that the tracks were taken in part from 2011.10.29;
    In part from 13,14 e 17 ottober 2012.
    Now we can listen the performance on YT for that dates but this couldn’t solve the problem cause some thing in the track seem to me added in studio.
    For instance: do you heard say “Yeah ” in Brother
    or the “all i neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed” in Going to a town?
    Your opinion? TX

  29. I found a twist in the whole story!!😉 From the BBC: George Michael introduces his unique live solo performance at the historic Palais Garnier Opera House in Paris, recorded in 2012 for his live album Symphonica. It’s been recorded in Paris!!! ha ha (being sarcastic here ;))

    I really hope George one day will tell more about the mess he made out of Symphonica but to be honest I highly doubt he will😦 He doesn’t even seem to care that much about it, all he wants us to know that he really is sober as a judge…(funnily enough I heard him say that in Up Close With George Michael as well, which was in 2011…turns out now to be a lie…what’s new)…and that it was really HIM who broke up with Kenny and not the other way around. LOL

    By the way, I do really like the album even though I really miss Where I Hope You Are or Russian Roulette on it, his voice is fantastic.

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