Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Luxury & Heartache: Culture Club's Underrated Fourth LP

Culture Club is one of the most talented pop acts of their era. Lead singer Boy George (George O'Dowd), Roy Hay (guitars/keyboards), Mikey Craig (bass), and Jon Moss (drums/percussion) produced some of the finest blue-eyed soul and pop making them a sensation. Their discography has aged well and is readily in print barring their fourth LP, From Luxury to Heartache (1986). The neglect is possibly due to Luxury's commercial failure and critical indifference. Despite this, Heartache is one of the more interesting albums that Culture Club cut.

The History
From Luxury to Heartache came on the heels of the excessive Waking Up With the House On Fire (1984). Conflict over artistic direction, its crux the romantic tension between Moss and George, seeped throughout the Waking album. Desperate for a new direction Culture Club removed Steve Levine, principal director behind their first three records, and brought in Arif Mardin. Mardin was known for his work with Chaka Khan, Bette Midler, Hall & Oates, and Carly Simon among others. His brilliant synthesis of soul and pop was ideal for continuing their blue-eyed sound, but assisting in its evolution.

The Record
A dance spin was placed on the record and reared its head on the dark and dim "Heaven's Children" and "Too Bad." Unfortunately, the production sounded too big on songs like these and drowned out the band element Culture Club was known for.

Thankfully, there were songs that found them working out their new identity with success, such as the lead single "Move Away." "Move Away" had George in excellent voice, even with his increasing drug habit. The deterioration of his relationship to Moss proved to be his best muse lyrically.

The songs of Luxury touched on whimsy ("Work On Me Baby"), the Moss/George split ("Come Clean"), and sexual/social identities ("I Pray," "Sexuality"). Not everything worked, but it made for mesmerizing listening nonetheless. The classic Culture Club pop popped on "Gusto Blusto" and "God Thank You Woman." The latter was the second, and final, British single from the album. With its contagious fiddle breaks it was a bright slice of pep. "Gusto Blusto," slated to be the second American single, had a rowdy tang that exemplified that the group wasn't George's brainchild but four individuals working as a whole. Heartache was another self-contained record under Culture Club's belt.

The Impact
The initial single "Move Away" started the project off, commercially, on a positive note. It was a hit in both their largest markets: America (#12) and Britain (#7). When the record released in April of 1986, reviews were mixed and sales slumped. The record charted on the U.K. Album Chart (#10) and the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 (#32). "God Thank You Woman" was Culture Club's lowest charting single at that time in England (#31), while "Gusto Blusto" had its Stateside release cancelled. The chilly reception owed to the changing music market, Culture Club's colorful image marred them as campy. Though the look of Culture Club had been dialed down to a tasteful, if assimilation, style for the project, it was too late. The explosive nature of George's drug problem culminated with the overdosing death of keyboardist Rudetsky in George's home. Turmoil boiled and the record fell away in the ensuing chaos. The group wouldn't reform until 1998.

"God Thank You Woman"
Directed By: Steve Barron

Later years would be kinder to Heartache, in terms of its stature in fans eyes. Not rising to the peaks of their fifth album, the divine Don't Mind If I Do (1999), it does stand as a better record than Waking Up With the House on Fire. From Luxury to Heartache isn't a perfect album, perhaps it wasn't meant to be. Its target of classy transition was the mission of the day. Three and a half out of five stars.-QH

[Editor's Note: Virgin Records no longer issues this on CD. It was never pressed on CD in America, but in England it was. Up until 2002, you could find this as an import CD title, which is how I got my copy, but currently it is officially out of print across the board. One can locate an affordable copy via or through eBay.-QH]


Lonnell said...

What a great post! I bought this album years ago but never really got into it. After reading this post I'm dusting it off and giving it another try. Thank you!

Moanerplicity said...

Although I wasn't a HUGE fan when CC emerged, I grew to appreciate the quality of most of their stuff and must give these cats their rightful due. They managed to merge the New Romantic sound with Pop and edges of R & B (thanks to Boy George's vocal dexterity) to make their own place in the music of the time.

Although I don't recall anything from the final LP, your words about it make me curious to give it a listen.

Hopefully George can get her personal life in order & start recording again, because he definitely put his own stank on the industry... & yes, the cat could sing!


NORIG said...

I loved this album! It is a great blue-eyed soul & pop record. Unfortunately George's drug problems at the time cost them and the record company lost faith and didn't promote the album. Highlights are the sweet Work On Me Baby, Move Away, God Thank You Woman and the dark Heaven's Children and campy Sexuality! Fun fun record!!

Anonymous said...

I love this record! And I thought I was the only one that appreciated it. It's very underrated. I think Waking Up is also very underrated and has some good stuff.

However, I think Don't Mind If I Do is very overrated by fans. I guess they were so happy to see CC reunite, they accepted anything. The songs on there were so slow and boring. I miss the fun uptempo peppy CC. I guess that record was a precursor to an artist like Adele who is big now, but it just puts me to sleep.