George Michael is beginning to find out whether Patience is a virtue. The title of the out singer-songwriter's new album--released March 15 internationally on Aegean/Sony Music--could be Michael's wish for his longtime fans, who have bided their time for nearly eight years since his last studio set of new songs, the 1996 release Older. Early signs suggest that the waiting will be worthwhile for both parties. "There has been a really strong vibe around this album for months now," says Mark Noonan, head of music at HMV U.K. and Ireland. Indeed, the single "Amazing" debuted March 7 on the U.K. singles chart at number 4, with opening sales of 41,000 units. That is 10,000 more than the total British sales of Michael's last single, "Shoot the Dog," which was indifferently received in 2002 as the second of two releases in a singles deal with Polydor. "Amazing" opened at number 1 in Italy, number 2 in Denmark and Spain, and number 4 in Ireland. That helped it enter the cumulative Eurochart Hot 100 Singles list at number 4. It also debuted on the Australian chart at number 8.
Patience--to be released in June on Epic in the United States--also represents a dramatic reconciliation for Michael and Sony Music. Michael started his career in the early '80s as a CBS and later Sony artist in hit duo Wham! and stayed with the company for the launch of his solo career with the hugely successful album Faith in 1987. But in 1992, Michael unsuccessfully sued Sony over creative ownership. He left the company in 1995 and signed with DreamWorks for North America and Virgin elsewhere. Then, last November, in a dramatic twist, Michael re-signed with Sony's U.K. division. "George was interested in two things," Sony U.K. chairman-CEO Rob Stringer says. What mattered was that "he felt comfortable here and that the deal was good. Both those things got sorted out." He adds, "There weren't fences with me; it wasn't like George hadn't worked on a successful project with us. The fences to be built were in America. Don Ienner was very positive about the whole project, met with George and discussed all the issues that needed to be discussed. We definitely had to do that before we could do the signing...but Don and George got on very well this time and had an honest conversation."
As for terms of the deal, Michael's manager, Andy Stephens, says only, "It's not the deal he signed as an 18-year-old. This is a very different time for the industry with many different people involved at Sony, and the relationship so far feels incredibly comfortable." Stephens says tracks from the new set were played for all five majors before Michael returned to Sony. The 40-year-old singer has been quoted in more than one U.K. interview as saying this album would be his last major-label endeavor. But Stringer says Sony is already planning its next release by Michael. That project will be a duets record featuring four new collaborations to be cut "over the next year," according to Stringer, plus archive hits with Elton John, Queen, Whitney Houston, and others.