Tuesday, 17 March 2009

1982 Culture Club: Do You Really Want To Hurt Me

In 1982, Culture Club came as a package, not so much as band identity but in that it was impossible to separate their music from the six feet of androgynous max Max Factored camp that was George O'Dowd. Media interest was focused more on his sexuality (or lack of it) and the music generally played second fiddle to the image. That observation can be said about a lot of eighties bands, but in Culture Club it seemed to reach its natural peak.

"Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" is a gentle, lovers rock ballad that seemed a natural heir to the number one slot after Musical Youth. An international hit, what strikes the listener after the passage of time is just how far George's voice carries the song on it's shoulders. The all important bass and rhythm section associated with the genre are buried under the strident vocal that carves out both the melody and rhythm of the track with confidence. There's none of the groin level bass throb of a Gregory Isaacs or John Holt tune to keep things moving, and take George's vocal track away and you're left with a straight and rather limp beat that muzak fans would regard as a bit dull.

But to it's credit, the vocal melody is a strong one, and the constant running up and down the scales provides welcome distraction from the frankly incomprehensible lyrics that boil down to a series of almost random phrases that amount to far less than they aspire to:

"Precious kisses, words that burn me

Lovers never ask you why

In my heart the fires burning

Choose my colour, find a star"

George could have sung this in Esperanto and it would have had little detrimental impact on the overall effect because the verses didn't matter - the kiss off here is the chorus that rang out clear as a bell:

"Do you really want to hurt me

Do you really want to make me cry"

And though plenty of people did in 1982, far more saw George almost as an alien entity, a man out of place and a harmless but vulnerable figure to be loved or mothered (depending on your age). The rest of the band were just so much ballast.

Age has not withered "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" a great deal; by sticking to the formula inherent in the genre it has avoided the harsh 'eighties' sound that has brutally date stamped many of its contemporaries and instead, having no original power to blunt, it sounds as smoothly laid back as it did when it was first released. Perhaps more so now as George's power to shock and confuse has long since vanished and the song can be listened to and appreciated on it's own merits without the pantomime window dressing that went with it.

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