I’m DJ D from Retro Remixes, and this is my shiny new column, fresh out of the bubble wrap. Pop! Pop! Pop!
This feature, a spin-off of my blog, will appear once in a great while, much like a Stevie Wonder album, then flame out as quickly as Michael Jackson’s hair during a Pepsi commercial. It’s called “Future Retro” because it’ll deal mainly with lesser-known releases from your favorite and your most-hated old-school artists. I’ll keep you posted on what they’ve been up to since they faded from the spotlight or what level they’ve sunk to in order to bolster a sagging career. Many of these artists were actually still sober at the time they recorded their more recent records, but some, sadly, were not. I’ll also focus on classic albums that have been reissued for the enjoyment of devoted fans and not Á¢€” repeat, not Á¢€” to line the pockets of greedy record executives.
Culture Club: The Greatest ’80s Group Ever!
Ahh, Boy George … with your cheeky attitude, tastefully applied makeup, and questionable sense of fashion, you made the ’80s too much fun. That soulful voice, those indecipherable song lyrics, the Caribbean influences, and of course the other guys in the band whose names no one remembers. How much pleasure you brought us until your group’s ugly and inevitable implosion. I mean, really, who didn’t see that one coming? Drugs. Secret love affairs. Blue eyeshadow. A dangerous combo even for the ’80s.
Against all odds (no, I’m not trying to remind you of the Phil Collins tune), the group reunited after more than a decade of bitch slapping each other. The result was the 1999 album Don’t Mind If I Do.
Available only as an import, it was largely ignored in the U.S. despite a deliciously nasty Behind the Music episode and a right-on VH1 concert special. But it succeeds on every level, with the group returning to glorious form, and should have thrilled longtime fans as well as gaining Culture Club legions of new ones. (Emphasis on “should have.”)
Much of the material here is among the best the band produced, which is the highest praise I can give. In many ways it’s a more consistent album than some of their previous efforts, as it’s more mature and focused and feels less self-consciously “experimental.” Culture Club’s varied musical influences swirl together into a perfect confection of pop, soul, dance, and reggae. At their height these were the areas where they always excelled. George’s voice is as unique and soulful as ever, and the band moves and grooves as if … well, as if they’re actually getting along.
“I Just Wanna Be Loved”
The opening cut, which doubled as the comeback single, is a sad, lush goodbye to a former lover. It was actually written during a previous short-lived reunion, but it took until 1999 for it to come shimmering to life.
“Black Comedy” (download)
This Latin-tinged track, a dismissal of a potential, younger romantic partner, percolates in such a joyful way that it wouldn’t have seemed out of place on one of the group’s classic ’80s albums. This one should’ve been a single.
“Fat Cat” (download)
Another song of woe. Simple but heartbreaking, it stands with the very best of Culture Club’s bitter ballads and easily competes with the more well-known “Time (Clock of the Heart)” and “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me.” “Fat Cat” also demonstrates the group’s knack for beautiful, adult, intelligent lyrics:
You say nothing’s changed
Where were you when my world
Was spinning into masquerade? …
If the light in your eyes
Addiction came as a surprise
Didn’t think I’d be so into you
“Your Kisses Are Charity”
The album version is terrific, but the remix features guest vocalist Dolly Parton. Why aren’t George and Dolly recording together all the time? They’re a divine match made in drag-queen heaven.
Unfortunately, the incredible vocalist Helen Terry does not appear on Don’t Mind If I Do like she did on previous Culture Club albums. Instead, the marvelous Zee Asha becomes the group’s go-to gal for sterling backup.
It was a long, painful wait for the devoted, but Don’t Mind If I Do is about as good as anyone could’ve hoped for. Better, even. However, as terrific as this reunion is, it’s also enough to make any obsessive fan a bit melancholy. To re-form after so many years apart and be this good is a testament to Culture Club’s talent. They were no flash in the pan; they deserved all their success. That it all fell to ruin makes this album an even more valuable listen.
Alas, Culture Club seemed to have imploded for the final time. Boy George continues his prolific (and vastly underrated) solo career as well as the battle against his own demons, while the remainder of the band continued briefly with a new lead singer and have now morphed into a tribute act called Culture Dub.
If you don’t have Don’t Mind If I Do (or the VH1 Storytellers album), get them, imagine what might have been, and push aside those who whisper “never.”
Don’t Mind If I Do can be purchased at Amazon.com.
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