to Be Clever, Culture Club's second LP comes from the same school of trendy British pop that's produced ABC, Wham! U.K., Haircut One. Hundred and a dozen other brands of musical candy whose recipes blend synth-pop, Motown and third-world flavors. But unlike other albums of similar ilk, Colour by Numbers
has gobs of emotion plastered as thickly as Boy George's makeup, and ten tunes that stick. And the band drummer Jon Moss, keyboardist-guitarist Roy Hay and bassist Mikey Craigcooks up a percolating brand of synth-pop that is more than just a quick, superficial ripoff.
Musically, "Karma Chameleon" recalls James Taylor's version of "Handy Man," though it's accelerated, synthed-up and frothed into a creamy sundae sprinkled with bluesy harmonica licks. The breezy pop-soul calypso "It's a Miracle" is one of several cuts in which Boy George faces off against backup singer Helen Terry. Theirs is a provocative match, rather like Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin, in which Terry's scat-singing tough mama responds to Boy George's imploring vulnerability with maternal strength. In the hauntingly lovely "Black Money," the relationship between the two is at its deepest and most mysterious. Boy George's repeated question, "Do you deal in black money?" provokes a gospel-style interchange that implies at least two different dialoguesone between a boy and a woman (possibly a prostitute), the other between whites and blacks.
Other songs gloss Latin dance music ("Changing Every Day"), Latin-inflected light funk ("Church of the Poison Mind," in which Terry growls like Patti LaBelle in a huff) and calypso-flavored pop-funk ("Stormkeeper," "Miss Me Blind"). In "Victims," a sprawling, churchy ballad, light symphonic orchestration replaces the silky, synthesized textures of the rest of the album. "Feel like a child on a dark night/Wishing there was some kind of heaven," Boy George muses. Both the vocals and the arrangement suggest that he is probing a deeper spiritual realm than the usual masochistic romantic delirium of dreams, love and emotionswords that course obsessively through the songs.
The rollicking calypso "Mister Man" politicizes the dark night of the soul that Boy George begins to approach in "Victims." The unpredictable, potentially murderous "man" of the title is a generalized enough symbol of fear and desire to be taken as a white op