1983, Music

Colour by Numbers (1983) by Culture Club

I thought I hated Culture Club. And then I heard Kissing to Be Clever, which just shocked the hell out of me. Not the singles but the rest of the album, which was far more diverse and brave than I ever would have imagined from the singles.

But this record, which contains their biggest hit, is not their debut. I don’t know whether the band has gotten more conservative after their initial success or my expectations were raised by hearing their debut but, either way, this feels like a giant step back.

The debut album isn’t entirely successful but it’s also risky, combining a whole bunch of different genres (reggae most of all) into new wave, and using that sound to hide some fairly risque lyrics about identity and gender among other things. This record feels like there were instructions to make everything safer and more palatable.

The songs might be more consistent – overall they’re probably catchier – but that makes for a less interesting record. Though I can’t pretend I paid a ton of attention to the lyrics, the lyrics also feel considerably less risque.
But it’s the arrangements where I think we really hear the different.

Everything is slicker. Sure, there are all sorts of touches from genres that normally one wouldn’t find in the New Romantic world but, aside from Helen Terry, it feels inauthentic; British lads trying to be funky. Moreover, the whole thing is so polished; no rough edges to be seen.

It almost feels like a different band made this. Or somebody got to them. I’m sure it was just the pressure to follow up the success of the debut, but this record feels like it’s a band trying to make their sound more accessible, more commercial, more professional and losing the things that made them compelling in the first place.


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