Kissing To Be Clever

Culture Club

Virgin, 1982

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


Boy George may as well have landed from Mars. “Thank you, America, you know a good drag queen when you see one,” Boy replied with a wink and a smile upon winning Best New Artist at the 1984 Grammy Awards. He was something new and quite different indeed, but in the wild and excessive 1980s, anything went. The fact of the matter is that he had the vocal chops and artistic credibility to back it all up. With his triple threat bandmates, Culture Club had arrived.

The debut, Kissing To Be Clever, did the job of establishing the group, though the real commercial breakthrough (Colour By Numbers) would still have to wait a year. On this first platter, the singles served up were “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” and “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” though “Time (Clock Of The Heart)” was subsequently added to the US versions of the LP and also proved to be a high charting hit. Unfortunately, that song would not be included on the CD until the re-masters years later. From a production standpoint, all three songs are superb and are leagues better than the remainder of the album.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

For his part, Boy George’s otherwise soulful voice struggles to reach beyond the monotone pocket he usually finds himself trapped in. One listen to the most grating tunes, “You Know I’m Not Crazy” or “Take Control” will give you a sense of what I’m talking about. It’s almost as if he is straining to hold or reach the high notes. Granted, such songs have their own limitations melodically, so it’s not exactly a smooth listening experience from start to finish. On “Love Twist,” Boy manages to make up a lot of lost ground, even if the brilliant Captain Crucial completely steals the show. If you want to hear another Crucial cut, look for the ultra-rare dub version of “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me.” You won’t be disappointed. It’s reminiscent of the essential reggae rap in UB40’s album version of “Red Red Wine.”

Thankfully, the three songs with “Boy” in the title (which should tell you how large Boy George’s ego has always been) don’t blur together. The album’s opener “White Boy” is the best of the lot, showcasing the drumming talents of George’s boy toy, Jon Moss. Also, “White Boys Can’t Control It,” is an unexpected standout merely for the mariachi horns, not to mention saxophone and old western-style harmonica solos. Unfortunately, the utterly pointless “Boy-Boy-I’m The Boy” doesn’t work and is among the other aforementioned sad remnants.

So yeah, it’s a mixed bag. The hands down, best Culture Club song EVER, period award goes to “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me.” It’s one of those timeless, atmospheric songs that magically glows. It totally saves this album from dismal obscurity and is what put Boy George and Culture Club on the map. They were never much of an album band, though, so I’d recommend picking up their amazing Greatest Hits if you are merely a passing fan. It’s there that you’ll find all the gems worth hearing. Boy George is experiencing a renaissance of sorts in 2014, with a solo album and a new Culture Club album to promote. Touring is on the docket, so you may want to check ‘em out. I saw them perform live 30 years ago. It was one of my very first concerts and all I remember is he had long pink hair. But hey, like I said, it was the ’80s!

Rating: B

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© 2014 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Virgin, and is used for informational purposes only.