1982, Music

Kissing to be Clever (1982) by Culture Club

I am a real completist. Even though I have been working hard against the impulse as an adult, more often than not the impulse wins out. So, for my podcast, I find myself listening to music I never would have bothered with, because it’s the anniversary of a particular record. Most of the time, my preconceptions get in the way but, occasionally, the music overwhelms my preconceptions.

I can’t tell you how little I thought of this band, or how little interest I had in listening to this record, but I can tell you that it was only my completist instincts that put this on my listening list. I figured I would have a listen, deem it unworthy of discussion and move on. Oops.

Whatever else once can say about this record, and about Culture Club as a band, one cannot accuse them of being boring. And this is a total shock to me. I figured that the band responsible for “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” and “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” was going to strain my patience. Maybe those songs – the latter in particular – have just been too ubiquitous for me to appreciate them, but this is a rather daring band. They may not always succeed, but they’re damn brave.

The music is draw from a whole host of different “world” styles in addition to its more traditional roots. In our era of accusations of “cultural appropriation,” this record would likely get a band into trouble, were it not for their black bass player. There’s a lot of reggae here, including some toasting by a guest artist. (If memory serves, George takes a stab at it himself later but I’m not 100% sure, as I’m listening to has a different track listing than some other sources.)

Normally I get frustrated when British bands try to hide provocative lyrics in accessible music but here they don’t feel like a trick. George’s lyrics feel very authentic and the music, which is bonkers enough to feel less commercial than it ended up being (at least the deep cuts) doesn’t feel like its disguising George’s lyrics like the Manic Street Preachers’ cock rock hides their politics. George does not hid his sexuality – it amazes me that some people didn’t see it – and also deal openly with race. (The latter is dealt with somewhat awkwardly.) It amazes me how many gay British frontmen have managed to have popular success while the public lives in denial. Anyway, good for him.

There are missteps – nothing everything works – and the record remains just a little too damned slick for me, but I can’t help but admire the effort.

Wow, never thought I would feel this way.


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