George Michael’s Faith – “One More Try”

One of the more raw vocal performances off of Faith, George Michael’s “One More Try” is an conservatively-paced gospel ballad of a young man in both the throes of despair and jubilation that come from prospective love and love lost. The song, which reached number 1 on the Billboard’s Hot 100 and Hot Black Singles, saw Michael leaning into his soul and gospel roots.

Stylistically and musically calling back upon 1984’s “Careless Whisper,” Michael is reserved from the get-go of this performance, carefully retreating into the speaking character: a young male who has been emotionally burned by previous love. The song explores the emotional history of this young man as he contemplates on the past love and heartache he has endured, wherein he is hesitant to enter/return to a relationship with an elder lover out of fear of being hurt once again.

The song follows a simple chord structure in F Major, one often found in ballads, of I – vi – VI – ii – V. There are some other chords thrown in-between the these, reverting back to the root of F (more so a F/C) or to the fifth (particularly a C/E), but the basic structure of the song is held as shown prior. This chord progression is fitting in this song because of the fact that it allows for both a progressive, pacing feeling along with the ease of turning around upon the root of the song.

Thematically, the music coincides with Michael’s message quite easily, formatted around this state of cyclical, rhetorical thinking. Following the first playing of the chord progression through what sounds like a pained, almost-espousal synth/organ, is Michael’s first verse:

I’ve had enough of danger
And people on the streets
I’m lookin’ out for angels
Just tryin’ to find some peace
Now I think it’s time
That you let me know
So if you love me
Say you love me
But if you don’t
Just let me go

We know that Michael has been hurt from the beginning of the song, stating that he has had enough of the dangerous, pained life, wishing for something less complicated. In referencing another character, one unnamed, we hear that he is asking for them to be straight-forward: to simply be truthful and uncomplicated in their dealings; otherwise, if the person cannot be straight forward with Michael, he wishes for them to let him be so that he doesn’t have to face heartbreak once again.

From here, the music hits its turn around on that V-chord, returning to the root (I), and enters the chorus (where, while there are some other transitional chords added to the progression, the basic skeleton is still very much the same), where Michael expands upon the previous message that he had voiced at the end of the first verse:

‘Cause teacher
There are things that I don’t want to learn
And the last one I had
Made me cry
So I don’t want to learn to
Hold you, touch you
Think that you’re mine
Because it ain’t no joy
For an uptown boy
Whose teacher has told him goodbye

Spoken towards this elder lover, Michael states that he doesn’t want to learn how to love again just to have his heart broken one more time — that a previous lover, one who had taught him to love, had done that exact thing to him and he is unsure whether his heart can take such pain again.

The synth returns to its usual chord progression and Michael begins lamenting on the process of this relationship coming to light in the second verse:

When you were just a stranger
And I was at your feet
I didn’t feel the danger
Now I feel the heat
That look in your eyes
Telling me “No”
So you think that you love me
Know that you need me
I wrote the song, I know it’s wrong
Just let me go

The importance is that even after running through these thoughts again, Michael has begun to reminisce on the beginning of their relationship, coming to terms with the fact that this person might very well be in love with him, but it’s something that he can’t accept. Reminded of the pain he had gone through before, Michael finds it necessary to push this lover away, simply for the fear of facing the same outcome as his previous relationship. His thinking — whether for the uneasiness, weariness, and temptation — is cyclical. Similar to the chord progression, which has repeated itself for the intro, first verse, chorus, and second verse, Michael is running through a similar pattern of thinking: recognizing love for what it is, remembering how past love had hurt him so, and decidedly pushing away new love in fear that it will eventually break his heart.

Structurally, the song runs through another playing of the chorus (no difference from previous), an instrumental break from the vocals and for a synth “solo,” and returns upon Michael’s continued questioning of his potential lover:

So when you say that you need me
That you’ll never leave me
I know you’re wrong, you’re not that strong
Let me go

This lover’s pleas, that they “need” him and won’t ever “leave” him, come off as unfaithful to Michael. He knows that there might come a time when that is no longer true, citing his pain of previous relationships as the fact of this. In turn, he once again calls for his lover to simply “let me go,” so that the heartache, questioning, and tempestuous love can be forgotten, so he can move on with his life without facing the eventual loss of love. This questioning and his recognition of love are shouts from the void, calling towards his lover. Yet, while acting as if he has made his final statement, detesting love, he enters the cycle once again.

The song enters into its final chorus, returning to that I chord and equally revisiting that now well-acquainted chord progression. While the chord progression remains unchanged, the lyrics have undergone a minor change, transforming itself in the form of a never-before-heard closing couplet. The song is twisted on its head here, turning on a rhetorical device that nullifies the previous message of the song:

And teacher
There are things that I don’t want to learn
And the last one I had
Made me cry
So I don’t want to learn to
Hold you, touch you
Think that you’re mine
Because it ain’t no joy
For an uptown boy
Whose teacher has told him goodbye
I’m so cold inside
Maybe just one more try

Similar to other popular examples such as Kendrick Lamar’s “The Blacker the Berry” from the 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly, in which he calls out his own moral hypocrisy in the last couplet of a politically minded song, or Common’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.” from the 1994 album Resurrection,  where Common implores an extended metaphor of rap as a woman to critique the fall of conscious and Afrocentric rap, only revealing such towards the end of the song, George Michael negates his qualms for heartbreak at the very end of the song, finally imploring that he will give love “one more try.” After the extended worries of entering into a new relationship and asking, if not directly, telling his lover to leave him alone and let him be, he ends up contradicting himself in the end, debasing his worries and admitting that he is longing for long (“I’m so cold inside”) and deciding that he ultimately wants love in the very end.

It’s a fitting message, one that most listeners can relate to, and one that the music fits quite well: the cyclical action of emotional and mental progression/resolution only to turn around and end up starting over back from the beginning. For Michael, it comes in the form of originally giving into temptation and love, only to be hurt and become weary of unfettered love from there on out. Given another chance at love (whether with a new lover or with the same from before), he returns on the defensive, treading lightly so not to present himself emotionally bare. Yet in the end, he gives into the temptation and allows for the cycle to restart itself, giving his lover his heart and asking for the same from them. If there is anything to know of love, it’s that you must be willing to accept the possibility of hurt. Without it, it’ll never truly come to fruition.

Featured image taken from Vevo video of George Michael’s “One More Try.”

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