Album in Depth: Colour by Numbers by Culture Club

Hi, I’m JotaKa. I’m a rocker by birth and grew listening to rock discs and long plays by the dozen. So… Culture Club… I only know about one song of the band, Karma Chameleon, and it is in this album. That’s one of the reasons I want to do this one: it’s Karma Chameleon’s album, which is its band most influential album. The other reason would be that I never did a new wave eighties album. So… why Color by Numbers and who are the Culture Club? A little background is required.

The year is 1983. Rowan Atkinson makes his debut in movies starring the unofficial Bond movie “Never Say Never Again” and my favorite Star Wars episode, the sixth one, goes to the silver screen. Jason Todd appears as the second Robin and the great video game depression shows its claws, enduring for three years. Thriller is released and Madonna debuts.

After being fired from the Bow Wow Wow, Boy George (the “guy” from the album cover) started his own band. Joining with him, Mikey Craig on the bass, Roy Hay on the guitar and Jon Moss on the drums, Culture Club was formed and was heading to success (if you call New Wave that). After an album that had some success on the charts, but strange success on the tabloids (after all, nobody knew if the singer was a guy or a girl, it was popular in the eighties), the band released this album. There isn’t really many more to add to it than this.

I could state the two major problems behind the band: Boy George was spending more money with drugs than with food (although what drugs was never said) and he was romantically involved with Jon Moss. These problems tolled the band to a point that the band split up some time later and brought some tension to music writing, since the relationship between the two wouldn’t be what you call healthy (and seeing how this could be misinterpreted, it was domestic violence the issue, not the fact that it was homosexual).

The cover is bland, but I guess their intention was just plaster Boy George face in everything, since he was the show stopper of the band, and the rest of the band is just there to pretend they exist. They existed, but not quite as the huge girl/boy. The entire album clocks at 38:15, fair enough, with the longest track being Black Money with only 5:19 and the shortest track being “That’s the Way (I’m Only Trying to Help You)” with 2:44, which I guess is decent. Just have to keep track of the airtimes, I guess.

As this was (and is) their most famous album, it was (and is, again) well received, as it went 4xplatinum on its release, being the second of its year on the billboard album chart (and you probably know which one was the first one, it’s up there). Okay… As I get progressively shorter on intros, let’s dig into this one: Colour by Numbers by Culture Club.

1st track: “Karma Chameleon” – This is one more of those tracks that everybody already listened to and I can’t really say much more. It is great. It’s poppy, it’s fun, it has an interesting melody, it has a catchy tune, it has a catchy lyric (although deep as a puddle) and it won’t leave your head until you shoot yourself in the mouth. The mix of harmonica and the whole folk rock deal makes the listening to this music worthwhile wherever you are, just to lift ones spirit. Really, if you think you don’t know what song is this, search for it: you will remember it from somewhere. Great song, moving on.

2nd track: “It’s a Miracle” – As the song starts with a synth pop and a sort of MJ singing (maybe it’s something of the year), it promises more than it delivers, with the song being pretty simple and repetitive. The song surprises with a cool sax solo that isn’t wonderful by any stretch of the word, however, in the middle of the whole start of new wave era, it really sounds like a trend that should’ve passed on. The song has also a vocal solo, that is fun to hear, but overall, it should have used more of the saxophone. Lyrically, the song was going to be named “It’s America”, but changed last time, and to be honest, it shows, as the lyrics go with “America”, while Miracle sound like something transcendent that the song doesn’t catch. It’s a single that, to me, failed to impress, but had its moments.

3rd track: “Black Money” – This song’s lyric goose step around this term, Black Money, that I guess had some meaning, but as a kid of the nineties, I have no idea if it means something strange (or maybe sex, the eighties were confusing times). It has that Lionel Ritchie Stevie Wonder feel to it, making it a good ballad, but not so much. It has some creative feminine back vocals and the Sax attacks again. Maybe it is a Culture Club trait (and since I’ve never heard anything of the band outside this album, I wouldn’t know). It’s average, at least, with a lesson on how Back Vocals should be done. It also sound as if Dark Side’s Time was mixed in with Dark Side’s Money as the outro ends with a Dark Side mood to it. Strange to say the least.

4th track: “Changing Every Day” – Okay… if you ever thought to yourself “Is there any track that resume New Wave of the eighties?”, search no fucking more. This song is the formula: piano, mild singing, obnoxious back vocals, and mild usage of guitars… it’s all there. And let me tell it… it’s not good. The only thing good is the out of context fucking saxophone attacking again, and I really don’t get it. For what I could gather (maybe I’m wrong here, and got myself confused), there isn’t much Sax in new wave. So, for now, let’s just say: although in this song the sax… well… isn’t good, it was a good idea. Maybe that idea should’ve evolved with the genre, as well as the back vocals, that should be praised normally, but is obnoxious in this song specifically. Resuming: this song isn’t good. Stay away from it, unless you’re looking for generic.

5th track: “That’s the Way (I’m Only Trying To Help You)” – This is simply a song made out of two singers and a piano and it is a pretty good initiative. It has a Motown feel to it, although not as exaggerated as… well… Motown. Besides that, there is really not that much to say. As the shortest track, the piano and vocals doesn’t tire to the end. Good song.

6th track: “Church of the Poison Mind” – This song was other of the singles that brought this album to the recognition it has, so I will compare it to Karma Chameleon. It has the harmonica of a Supertramp’s Take the Long Way Home, but there is where the similarity ends. And believe me, I enjoy a good harmonica, and some good back vocals, but it seems that this track they got those two aspect in control just to piss me off, including a xylophone, because everything is better with xylophone. This song is chaos and new wavey to the point where I don’t stand it. It does have some good sections, like a good vocal solo, but then… it has minor qualities that don’t stand near the great depression of shit that this song is. I can’t see why people enjoyed this song to begin with.

7th track: “Miss Me Blind” – what? This song is theirs? Holy crap, it’s another of those songs that everybody in the planet already listened to. I always go happy when this stuff happens. The back vocals are done superbly by Jermaine Stewart, as it works as an eighties ballad with some quality. It is actually an enjoyable track, if you like that style of music, like I somewhat do. With an R&B feel and a guitar solo from nowhere that is simple but rocks, this song deserves to be… heck, it’s even better than Karma Chameleon. It should be listened to, as it should be the great song of their career.

8th track: “Mister Man” – With a more Jamaican feel (although the vocals don’t mix with that theme) and the eighties new wave feel throughout it all. It’s mostly just another song that shows why that years are gone and will never come back: it’s not that great and it did not age well, even with the effects on the rhythm guitar that remembers me of disco. I really believe that the best part of this album is the sax, this time around even having a duet with the keyboards, making the middle of the song being pretty enjoyable, but not enough to make this song great. Good, at least.

9th track: “Stormkeeper” – When you choose the word “Storm” on your track’s name, you have to be epic. Unfortunately, it isn’t. I think it is the first song that I can say that didn’t add anything to no one and is mediocre and subpar. It is a boring ballad, with the voice of Boy George already wearing thin on your head, with really nothing more to add than Sax and some pan-flute (yeah… pan-flute). When it comes near the ending of the song, you will be counting the seconds to the song end.

10th track: “Victims” – This is a ballad, with everything that Bryan Adams brought to the table, going to the point where you can even hear some of “Everything I Do I Do It For You” playing, although this one was a prior release. It is enjoyable to hear, it works as an outro. At the two minute and a half mark, it sounds as if it’s gonna change, but it goes back to what it was, at least until the last minute mark, when the song goes to a somewhat orchestrated tune, with strings and, well, a lot more. It works as an outro and maybe as a standalone, but I don’t know, I wouldn’t listen to it alone.

So, all does it all hold up? Well… I was expecting Karma Chameleon and filler, and it isn’t, although it’s something very close to it. It had some ballads and showed what new wave was all about, but really, there were only two songs out of ten that made me think “This is Awesome”, while most good tracks were just good songs. If you want to hear more of things good as Karma Chameleon, check Miss Me Blind: it’s not like Karma Chameleon, but it’s another great song by them. If you want to hear some eighties ballads, jump to track 5 or track 10, but those four tracks are all the album can offer. Outside of that, really… don’t look in too deep, you won’t find anything really interesting.

This is JotaKa, signing off.

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