At first glance, Culture Clubs DJ-ing Don of Drag Queen Pop seems an unlikely candidate for the "unplugged" treatment of U Can Never Be 2 Straight
. But no-one ever suggested that Boy George couldnt carry a tune and--despite the dance beats and glossy synth textures getting replaced here by acoustic and steel guitars, fiddles and gentle horns--the music is essentially no different to the MOR pop that he and Culture Club are famous for. And that, in the end, is the problem. Opening track "Ich Bin Kunst" ("I Am Art") initially leads us down a different path, being a ludicrously camp romp through Brel/Brecht alt-cabaret territory, complete with George self-dramatising his sexuality and shock value to the point of parody. But its a red herring: the rest of the set is dominated by love confessionals (much of it aimed, by suggestion at least, at straight men who dont know what they want) over innocuous new tunes and reworkings of past solo, Culture Club
and Jesus Loves You
nuggets. If "Fat Cat"s bitchy metaphors at least ripple the bland surface, then the rest is predictable and samey--apart from a rehash of old Hare Krishna tribute "Bow Down Mister", which many would suggest shouldve been left where it was. --Garry Mulholland
There's good news for everyone here. For Boy George diehards this album represents the closest yet that our hero has ever come to truly baring his soul in music. For the rest of us it represents possibly the most tasteful, tuneful and delightfully low key return to form by an 80s icon that we've yet to see. While many things spring to mind when George O'Dowd's name crops up - assured synth-pop, DJ sets at Ministry Of Sound, flirtation with religious iconography - it's surely not what you're expecting from this venture into public exorcism. For George has turned acoustic singer-songwriter. And it's no bad thing at all.
The first track "Ich Bin Kunst" (stop sniggering at the back) is no indication of what's to come, with its Brechtian Cabaret vibe and self-deprecating humour concerning the childhood days of the Boy himself. Track 2 gives the game away. "St Christopher" gently swings to a jazzy acoustic guitar and resembles nothing less than prime period Joni Mitchell. This theme of spare, unplugged arrangements continues throughout, allowing George's poignant autobiographical tales to shine in much more honest and relaxed settings. "She Was Never A He" tells the tale of a friend coming to terms with his sexuality in a way that seems far more credible than if he had chosen to set it against a track more reminiscent of a dancefloor filler at the Wag Club in 1981. This is the key. George really is moving on, and by doing so seems to be genuinely developing his skills as a songwriter as well as performer.
The stark accompaniment only betrays him once or twice. Most noticeably on "Julian" where his attempts at 'tortured' push his vocal chords into places they were never meant to go. Elsewhere a whole gamut of styles are gently moulded to his purpose, from the flamenco of "She Was Never A He" to the West Coast country twang of "Losing Control" or folky swing of "Same Thing In Reverse". With four of these songs re-workings of tracks from Cheapness And Beauty - his last Virgin album - and also with a new version of Jesus Loves You's "Bow Down Mister", George is obviously not afraid to stick to his guns and say 'I told you' so to previous detractors. What is refreshing is that he's right on every count. These are songs that demonstrate a mature talent at work - both vocally and lyrically. --Chris Jones
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