Sunday, September 2, 2012

Culture Club - Kissing To Be Clever

In 1981, British new-wave soul singer Culture Club was formed. The group consisted of lead singer Boy George, bassist Mikey Craig, drummer Jon Moss and guitarist/keyboardist Roy Hay. After a few singles early in 1982 that failed to generate any chart success, the band released Kissing To Be Clever in September of 1982. This debut album went on to be a Platinum seller. It went to number 5 in their native UK, number 8 in Germany, number 12 in Australia, number 2 in New Zealand and France, and number 3 in Sweden and Norway. In the US, the album climbed all the way to number 14 on the Billboard Hot 200 and number 24 on the Billboard R&B charts.

The track listing varied between the UK vinyl and the US one. Since I first discovered the album with the later, I will be reviewing the tracks in that order today to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary.

Side one starts with “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me”, their break-thru hit. The song was a number 1 seller in Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK. In the US, it was blocked on the Billboard Hot 100 at the number 2 spot due to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. I have always liked the a capella vocal harmonies that open this one, followed by the soothing Caribbean rhythms.

“I’m Afraid of Me” was the second single from the band; it stalled at number 100 on the UK charts. The album features a remix version which ties with another as my favorite tracks on the release. I love the bouncy percussion on this one; how can you resist bopping your head along to it? I can’t.

“You Know I’m Not Crazy” was used for the B-side of the third single in the US. This spicy love song has a Latin flavor to it. The music builds to a dramatic peak along with the lyrical narrative.

“I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” was the fifth single from the album and is the other favorite track of mine on the record. Released only in North America, it went to number 9 in Canada, number 33 on the US Adult Contemporary chart, number 14 on the US Billboard Dance chart, and number 9 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Terry Bailey’s trumpet and Nicky Payne’s saxophone really add a festive richness to this song about doing anything and everything for love.

“Love Twist”, with its cha-cha tempo, was released as the B-side to the second single. It features the Ska-rapping of Captain Crucial to bridge from the second chorus to the third verse.

Side two begins with “Time (Clock of the Heart)”, the fourth single from the group. It went to number 16 in Germany, number 12 in Australia, number 11 in Sweden, number 9 in Austria and Switzerland, number 7 in Finland, number 4 in Ireland, New Zealand and Canada, number 3 in the UK and number 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The lyrics are about relationships that are taboo and the conflict of the enjoyment and the shame. Specifically, George wrote this one about his relationship with Moss; the depth of his feelings is evident in the vocal delivery. Payne’s sax solo further punctuates that longing desire.

“White Boy“ was the very first single from the band. Released earlier in 1982, this song about racial tensions only got to number 114 in the UK. The dance remix, with its mix of disco and island elements, appears on the album and spotlights all the members of the band.

“Boy, Boy (I’m the Boy)” has a strong dance groove and a catchy chorus.

The B-side to the fourth single was “White Boys Can’t Control It”. The song has a dramatic flair thanks to its musical score.

The final track on the album is “Take Control”. This dance track has a tribal tempo to the drums throughout.

Later CD releases have included three bonus tracks.

“Love Is Cold (You Were Never No Good)” is a rousing dance number with a funky bass riff. The lyrics are a realization that a former lover was a bad influence. Moss has a nice drum solo here.

“Murder Rap Trap” is another track featuring Captain Crucial; it was the B-side to the first single “I’m Afraid of Me”. The Ska rhythms here are dark and mysterious.

“Romance Beyond the Alphabet” is an instrumental version of “Time (Clock of the Heart)”. It really spotlights the rich arrangement of the song.

As I noted earlier, I had a copy of Kissing To Be Clever on vinyl back in the day, bought at the local record store during my senior year of high school. I was a fan of Culture Club right from the start, enjoying how they blended a variety of musical styles into a big cultural melting pot. This album got a lot of spins on the turntable for a number of years after its release.

As I have mentioned before, I gave up my vinyl back in the late 90’s, but decided to pick up a CD version of the album in the fall of 2008; that was like being reunited with an old school chum after many decades. It is still an album I enjoy today, thirty years after first hearing it.

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