Boy George & Culture Club
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Though never intentional on Culture Club’s part, throughout much of their lifespan, the band were continually beating back the cynicism of the music press or other assorted naysayers. For any bit of favor won by efforts such as their debut LP Kissing to Be Clever (1982) and its successor Colour By Numbers (1983), there was an unnecessarily biting nastiness reserved for records like Waking Up with the House on Fire (1984) and From Luxury to Heartache (1986).
Granted, one could constructively argue the artistic merits of each of these individual recordings, but what couldn’t be questioned were the unassailable talents of George O’Dowd (vocals), Mikey Craig (bass), Roy Hay (guitar, keyboards) and Jon Moss (drums, percussion). Unfortunately, due to the initial flush of their success—and other internal conflicts within Culture Club itself—the British quartet weren’t extended that courtesy right away.
Decades parted from their rapid rise within the British New Romantic movement, Culture Club’s influence can now be seen (and heard) in a range of recording acts today. With Life, Culture Club’s sixth long player, the group make their boldest musical maneuver yet by returning to the mainstream stage to reclaim their legacy solely on their terms.
The birthing cycle for Life began on the PledgeMusic platform four years beforehand and operated then under the working title of Tribes. Following the pristine Don’t Mind If I Do (1999), Culture Club’s fifth LP and product of their first formal reformation, Life had big shoes to fill. The foursome was more than up to the task and worked in cooperation with Martin “Youth” Glover—an eclectic and iconic musician/producer in his own right. However, Culture Club delayed the album for further finetuning.
During that time, O’Dowd, Craig, Hay and Moss sought further production assistance from Darren Lewis and Iyiola Babalola, a Manchester based production duo working under the nom de guerre of Future Cut. Additionally, while retaining some of the songs co-created with Youth, John Themis was onboarded. Longtime Boy George and Culture Club enthusiasts may recognize Themis’ name from the credits on several of O’Dowd’s solo endeavors; he also guested as a prominent session man for Don’t Mind If I Do.
Leading up to its eventual reveal, the band toured the new compositions alongside their classic canon where fans—and fickle critics—sang praises for the strength of the new material. The live shows only increased the desire among Culture Club fans who feverishly lobbied for the album’s release. But, as the saying goes, good things come to those who wait.
While complementary to Don’t Mind If I Do, Life surpasses it as an even stronger affair. The trim, eleven-track Life is breathtakingly accomplished and engaging. Musically, the set has Culture Club returning to the sonics that have romanced them across their previous records: rhythmic rock (“God & Love”), sweet soul (“Runaway Train”), lush lover’s rock (“What Does Sorry Mean?”) and bits of world music spice (“Human Zoo”). But, there are some fresh aural flavors presented too.
From the punchy, throwback funk of “Different Man” around to the gospel mien of the title song, these excursions harmonize well with the band’s established genre associations. All of it is constructed enthusiastically by Craig, Hay and Moss, who have happened upon an envious balance of precision and improvisation. The three musicians play throughout Life like men possessed with an undeniable hunger for their craft; this fervor makes every arrangement shine with vitality.
Of course, O’Dowd ties it all together with his wealth of experience—personally and professionally—that he brings to Life as a vocalist and songwriter. His singing holds fast an even deeper soulfulness than before, its new texture lending every track conviction that shifts from the sassiness of “Resting Bitch Face” to the emotionally charged “Oil & Water,” the latter entry arguably Life’s finest moment. Lyrically, O’Dowd is at the top of his game, as he juggles the depth of the human condition with pop approachability, as best exemplified on the collection’s debut single “Let Somebody Love You.”
Upon the record’s conclusion, it becomes strikingly obvious that Life is an uncontestable triumph that shuns nostalgia for timelessness. Not even the staunchest Culture Club detractor can resist its wiles. And yet, critical favor was never the impetus of this—or any—Culture Club record. Instead, Life announces that the quartet is dedicated to their music and it’s with that artistic awareness that they use this album to take their rightful place in the pantheon of pop music influencers from their epoch and beyond.
Notable Tracks: “Different Man” | “Human Zoo” | “Let Somebody Love You” | “Oil & Water”