Review: “Colour By Numbers” by Culture Club (Vinyl, 1983)

Today’s POP RESCUE from a fate unknown, is the 1983 second album Colour By Numbers by British group Culture Club. Does this album paint a nice picture, or will it Poison your Mind? Read on…

Culture Club - Colour By Numbers (1983) album
Culture Club – Colour By Numbers (1983) album

The album opens with the huge hit and second single, Karma Chameleon, a song that is instantly recognisable from the first few notes of the guitar, and if that doesn’t get you, the harmonica will. The song bounces along gently punctuated by that harmonica, and the lovely warm vocal harmonies. The song rightly gave the group their second #1 UK hit single. The vocal break down over a pseudo-military style drum gives a nice contrast in the final third. Boy George really shines here and he seems to effortlessly deliver this track. Perfect!

It’s A Miracle follows this, and we’re led into this upbeat song with a nice 80’s synth. The backing vocals are spot on, and the appearance of Obligatory 80’s Saxophone is a welcome one in the latter part of the song. It’s a simple track, but this is its beauty, ensuring that it keeps it moving along nice and catchily. The track served as the album’s fourth and final single, bringing them a #4 UK hit.

Next up is Black Money, and this is a much slower song about unrequited love. I’m uncertain of the black money analogy here – ‘do you deal in black money’ Boy George repeatedly asks, but i’m simply not sure. He’s flanked by backing vocals from Helen Terry, whose loud and sudden outbursts are, whilst impressive in power and range, mostly just distracting.

Changing Every Day is next and this is a nice mid-tempo song with bass and piano. It’s quite a soulful track and one that you could easily imagine it being sung by George Michael. Helen returns on backing vocals, rounding off a nice easy little song.

Last track on Side One That’s The Way (I’m Only Trying To Help You) gives Boy George a wonderful platform from which to shine – and he does perfectly – showing off his vocal strength and range with little else than a piano. Helen does appear again, and she too shines well – perhaps making it seem odd that she’s seemingly not part of the group through her regular appearances on the album so far, but she helps to lift his vocals even higher. This is a lovely song to end the first side on.

Side Two opens with the harmonica of lead single (for the UK at least) Church Of The Poison Mind. This up-tempo track takes on a sort of 60’s Motown vibe, with Boy George flanked by Helen whose vocals are a great contrast to those of Boy George. The track is fairly verbose, so don’t expect much of a singalong within your first few listens, but the pace of it ensures that it is a catchy track. The ‘bah-bah-bah’ vocal section is unexpected, but the harmonica swoops in to deliver us back to the familiar.

Miss Me Blind follows this and this feels to me like a disco-inspired pop song. The heavy bass, the jangling guitars and some synths are all there. The vocals flow easily from Boy George, but the track feels like it perhaps runs a bit too long. Still, it’s worth it for the final vocals-only section right at the end. The track was released as a single in the US.

Next is Mister Man, but sadly it’s no Roger Hargreaves classic. Instead, we have a heavier track with guitars, and the melody and lyrics are a bit clunkier than earlier songs. It meanders along a little lost, which makes it easily forgettable.

That’s followed by Stormkeeper, which opens dramatically, and includes the use of flute alongside a thick bass. The song has some wonderful vocal harmonies with the backing vocals, and it feels like this song is one that could almost be from a soundtrack. Musically it sounds matured, and meanders along effortlessly before ending with a surprise gong.

The album closes with third single Victims, and this song is excellent. It opens with some lovely piano chords before Boy George arrives to show off those vocals. After a while, he’s joined by Helen again, whose backing vocals are gentle and complimentary. This allows his vocals and heartfelt lyrics to shine perfectly. Eventually, drums, bass, guitars, and a string section drop in, that enables the song to build wonderfully, and results in an unexpected epic track to close the album. The track rightly gave them another UK hit, reaching #3.

Culture Club’s lead single ‘Church Of The Poison Mind’ from 1983

Verdict

Over all, this album is a great collection of tracks. The singles really do shine here, with Karma Chameleon, Church Of The Poison Mind, and Victims leading the way. There’s plenty here for 1980’s music fans, with a lot of familiar chart music sounds that will make you think of contemporaries.

Boy George’s vocals are rich and delicate in all the right times and places, whilst he can certainly hold vocal power, with occasional assistance from the vocals of Helen Terry. R&B singer Jermaine Stewart is credited on the sleeve as a backing vocalist for the album, but his tracks are not noted. A couple of tracks let the side down a bit – Black Money and Mister Man are less interesting or just a little musically weaker, but their faults are only minor.

It’s a great album, and one that has opened my ears to more Culture Club rather than just the usual hits.

Rated 4 stars - You're missing a treat!
  • POP RESCUE 2021 RATING: 4 / 5
  • 1983 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #1, certified 3x Platinum by the BPI.
  • POP RESCUE COST: £2.40 from a Discogs.com seller.

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