Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Culture Club

  • Kissing to Be Clever [Epic/Virgin, 1982] B
  • Colour By Numbers [Epic, 1983] B+
  • Waking Up With the House on Fire [Epic, 1984] B
  • From Luxury to Heartache [Epic/Virgin, 1986] C
  • This Time: The First Four Years -- Twelve Worldwide Hits [Epic/Virgin, 1987] B+

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Kissing to Be Clever [Epic/Virgin, 1982]
A lot of new English bands I wish were even worse than they are--every time Haircut 100 or Depeche Mode finds a riff or a groove it means they may last longer than the fifteen months allotted by the march of fashion. This new English band I wish were better, because for all their fashionability I think their hearts are in the right place--they look so weird because that's the way they feel. They do come up with catchy tunes, too. But their bland Caribbean rhythms move no muscles, and their confrontations with racial issues are rarely more than a phrase deep. B

Colour By Numbers [Epic, 1983]
Boy George really doesn't sound like Smokey Robinson, you know--not the way Frankie Miller sounds like Otis Redding, not even the way John Cougar sounds like Bruce Springsteen. If he did, he could probably put this tuneful collection all the way over--Smokey's spiritual gravity has redeemed some pretty lightweight lyrics, so this sensual specificity might just salvage some vague ones. As it is, George's warm, well-meaning, slightly clumsy croon signifies most effectively when it has the least to say--when it's most purely a medium for his warm, well-meaning, slightly clumsy self. Just like Helen Terry, who packs the voice of Merry Clayton into the body of Gertrude Stein, his real aim in life is to reenact the story of the ugly duckling--and to radiate the kind of extreme tolerance that's so often engendered by extreme sexual ambiguity. B+

Waking Up With the House on Fire [Epic, 1984]
Since I had even less use for the dismissive because-he-wears-dresses theory than for the ridiculous new-Smokey analysis, I could never figure out this cutie-pie's means of commercial propulsion, but I know why he's having trouble staying up there: because he wears dresses. Given the discernible leftward shift in his soft focus, led by a catchy, censored single, this calls for concerted protest--which might be easier to whip up if the latest album weren't part three of more-of-the-same. B

From Luxury to Heartache [Epic/Virgin, 1986]
For once the title trip sounds like tragedy rather than just desserts. Not a musical tragedy, though suddenly the music bores both dispirited artiste and disaffected audience. As always, it's the artiste himself I care about--which is why I have no doubt he was a true star. C

This Time: The First Four Years -- Twelve Worldwide Hits [Epic/Virgin, 1987]
Stephen Holden thinks kids liked Boy George's singing more than I did because he evoked not a soul man but a synthesizer. Right: a synthesizer who wants to be your friend. His music is too nice to withstand much critical scrutiny, which means he's best when he puts a vaguely dishy edge on his female-identified pansexual humanitarianism: "Karma Chameleon," "Church of the Poison Mind," "Black Money." And the topper is "The War Song," which contributed more conspicuously to his U.S. downfall than mere heroin abuse. "War is stupid/And people are stupid"--now is that nice? B+