At a recent gig, Boy George introduced Culture Club as “a soul-funk-pop-reggae combo from the United Kingdom, where we have two queens”. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but Culture Club are so much more than an offhand soundbite.
David Bowie’s first appearance on Top of the Pops singing Starman in 1973 is often held up as one of the most iconic music TV moments of the decade — with thousands of articles, biography chapters and testimony from musicians saying that was their big epiphany.
And while that was never really equalled, Culture Club’s first appearance on TOTP a decade later was a huge 80s milestone. Even in the flamboyant new romantic era, Boy George’s gender-blurring presentation was a water cooler and school yard moment — going beyond androgynous eyeliner and hairspray for a tabloid-confounding full-on female look.
With a song title like Do You Really Want To Hurt Me, the headlines went straight for the S&M angle, even though the song was a pretty typical yearning pop love song, about his relationship with drummer Jon Moss.
Despite — or because of — the shock value, Do You Really Want To Hurt Me was one of the biggest hits of the year, with its new wave synth and reggae vibe an irresistible mix. After their first two singles landed outside the top 100, it was a number one in 11 countries and was only kept off the US Billboard No1 by Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean.
Boy George’s sultry soulful voice along with the band’s endless well of infectious hooks and fresh pop arrangements led them through a period from 1982-86 when they were one of the world’s biggest bands.
It’s during this time that they sold a massive chunk of their 150 million records, notably on albums Kissing to Be Clever, Colour by Numbers and Waking Up with the House on Fire — with iconic singles like Karma Chameleon and Church of the Poison Mind.
Culture Club are going through their third act – after a split in 1986, years and years of sporadic semi-reunions, and now the reinvigorated band, back for an arena world tour.
George said he wasn’t going to go gung-ho with the comeback unless they had a new album, as the nostalgia merry-go-round would’ve been like a “purgatory”. That was never going to happen anyway, as he’s kept himself from stagnating with his years as a house music DJ.
The band’s new album Life has a lofty enough title, and with tracks called Different Man, Bad Blood and (song title of the year) Resting Bitch Face, it’s a contemplative work in places, with hints of Grace Jones’ digital dub and Massive Attack-style basslines along with the more club-ready tracks.
George once sang, “I’m a man without conviction”, but he keeps proving himself wrong.
- Boy George and Culture Club play the 3Arena this Sunday (November 25)