Culture Club Reopen For Business

Boy George and band have launched a U.S. and U.K. tour that will include new material from the quintessential '80s rockers.

In the aftermath of reunion tours by everyone from the Sex Pistols to

the original Kiss, perhaps it is no surprise that the '80s new-wave

quartet Culture Club are back in business.

"I don't know if this is a rebirth or a revisit at this stage, to be

honest," Culture Club guitarist Roy Hay said. "It's really good to be back

with the band without all the pressure and insanity of being a 'big

band' and caring about everything."

Best known for their smash 1983 U.S. pop-soul hit,

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Culture_Club/Do_You_Really_Want_To_Hurt_Me.r

am">"Do You Really Want

to Hurt Me?" (RealAudio excerpt), Culture Club were once international stars

with videos

constantly aired on MTV. Twelve years after they broke up, they are

back together. As the press release for their "The Big Rewind Tour" --

which kicked off Thursday night at Chastain Park in Atlanta

and which will take them around the U.S. for 19 dates -- describes them,

"One black, one Jew, one Irish transvestite and one Anglo-Saxon: a clash

of cultures and a fondness for clubbing. It had to be called Culture

Club."

The quartet, which wore colorful, sometimes dayglow outfits, played a

catchy brand of blue-eyed soul that was occasionally set to a light

reggae rhythm. They were led by the sultry voice of a makeup-donning male

diva who went by the name George (born George O'Dowd), the man who put

the "Boy" in flamboyant. In their heyday, they helped bend gender in

rock music and break conventions about the traditional male lead-singer.

"Our legacy is what we are. We're not suddenly going to do some crazy

alternative music, because nobody is interested in that," Hay said. "If

we wanted to do that, we would have done it in the last 10 years on our

own."

The group's debut album, Kissing to Be Clever, was released in

1982. "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" (which George later revealed was

about his relationship with drummer Jon Moss) broke big here in early

1983, and "I'll Tumble 4 Ya" also went top 10, helping the album sell

more than a million copies in the U.S. A second album, Colour by

Numbers, released in late 1983 and containing such hits as "Church

of the Poison Mind," "Miss Me Blind" and the #1 hit

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Culture_Club/Karma_Chameleon.ram">"Karma

Chameleon" (RealAudio excerpt),

seemed to cement the group's position as a major act.

"We used to think we could go anywhere musically, and we had the uniting

factor of George's voice to bring us back," Hay said.

But by the release of a third album, 1984's Waking Up with the House

On Fire, the group had peaked. The bandmembers just didn't know it

yet. "George was rich and he was famous," drummer Moss said. "What a

great lifestyle -- dishing out free drugs and flying around the world on

a Concorde, very nice, thank you."

Boy George, who at one point chastised bandmembers for smoking pot, had

acquired a heroin addiction. His drug use made it difficult to record a fourth

album, the more dance-oriented From Luxury to Heartache [produced

by R&B hit-maker Arif Mardin (Aretha Franklin)]. That album

bombed, George's drug addiction became public --

dominating the front pages of the British tabloids for a period -- and the group broke up.

George entered rehab, cleaned up and launched a solo career -- but his

(and Culture Club's) time had passed.

For years, a reconciliation seemed unlikely; Moss now says there was

occasional talk of meeting over coffee sometime. "Like once every 100

years," Moss said.

But 12 years after the breakup, the band found itself featured on a

VH1 "Behind the Music" special that focused on the tragic demise of Boy

George and Culture Club instead of their musical contributions to the

sound of the early to mid-'80s.

"They hadn't released any of them [the series of shows, which includes

features on Meat Loaf, Joe Cocker, Billy Joel, etc.] when we did the

interviews," Hay said of the VH1 show. "The questions didn't seem too

bad. But then I watched the show and it was like reading the National Enquirer.

So I phoned them up and called them a complete bunch of bastards and how that was

the kind of checkbook journalism that killed Lady Di ... and [I] upset them very much."

That call led to a new VH1 special on Culture Club that allowed the bandmembers to tell

their own story via "Storytellers," which features the

music of the band and the story behind it.

For the first time in more than a decade, the original Culture Club

performed together last spring in New York City; the performance

aired from New York on June 14 and included one new song.

That song, "I Just Wanna Be Loved," will be included on a two-disc

anthology, due in August.

This summer, the reunited group has decided to hit the road with its new-wave peers

Howard Jones and the Human League. Whether or not the reunion tour will contribute to

a career rebirth remains to be seen. Moss has faith that

the sound of Culture Club's old hits, such as "Karma Chameleon," "Church of the Poison

Mind" and "Do You Really Want to Hurt

Me?," which have appeared on numerous '80s-pop compilations, are

timeless.

And their new tune is no departure from the sound that once took them to

the top. "[The new song is] a bit like a Culture Club song you think you

know, but you actually never did," Hay said.

On the eve of the tour, the bandmembers said that the old spark is

back and that they're hopeful the public will welcome their return to

action. "There's a magic there, and that hasn't gone away," Moss said.

"It doesn't feel like nostalgia to me. It was like somebody switched off

the plug for 12 years and just put it back in."