Boy George

This Is What I Do

In my recent interview with Boy George for The Quietus, he revealed that it was a review by Neil McCormick of The Daily Telegraph, referring to "his ruined voice", which inspired him to undertake a restorative health regime. Obviously, he wouldn’t have bothered if he didn’t think McCormick’s assessment contained at least a germ of truth. Enough, at least, to encourage this reviewer attempt to coin a George Rex/Wrecks pun around the song ‘King Of Everything’ (then abandon it), and certainly enough to sting Britain’s finest white male soul singer into looking after himself a little more carefully.

You can see why the comparison of his 52-year-old bones to a 500-year-old pile of stones might do that. But if George’s voice is a ruin, then it’s a beautiful one: his are the Tintern Abbey of tonsils, the Luxor of larynxes. If you crave the seraphic purity of the young George, then ‘Victims’, ‘Time (Clock Of The Heart)’, ‘Mistake No.3’, ‘That’s The Way’ and ‘Black Money’ are preserved for eternity; no-one can take them away. But as a showcase for today’s lived-in version – deeper and huskier now, like a male Marianne Faithfull – This Is What I Do serves its purpose nicely.

If John Lennon had a point when he said The Beatles were bigger than God, then the imaginary deity edges it over them in terms of influence over This Is What I Do. But only just. The Beatles get a direct mention in the Staple Singers-esque ‘Bigger Than War’, among a list of other icons, which avers that love is bigger than all of them… except Yoko. There’s a cover version of Yoko Ono’s ‘Death Of Samantha’. The single ‘King Of Everything’ has a breakdown straight out of ‘Dear Prudence’. The chorus "If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there" is lifted from George Harrison’s ‘Any Road’ (which itself paraphrases an exchange between the Cheshire Cat and Alice). And this might be clutching at straws, but contributor Martin Glover – aka Youth of Killing Joke – is a sometime McCartney sideman.

Perhaps surprisingly, the infractions made by religion onto the lyric sheet are not always positive ones. The album may end with a song which insists "all you can do is pray", but ‘My God’ details an unpleasant encounter with a Jesus freak in a New York gay bar – a true story, on what is a highly personal record. An alternate title for This Is What I Do might be This Is Who I Am, because it’s the most ‘him’ album he’s made for some time.

The opening lines are "Put down the booze/Let the demons win the fight/I drop my gloves down to the ground", and it isn’t long before he’s referring to his well-documented "self-destruction". Furthermore, the ‘boy’ in the Lover’s Rock-flavoured ‘Live Your Life’ is clearly autobiographical: the verse "Everybody said the boy was strange/The raised him in whispers/Oh how they prayed the demons would go away/His daddy was cruel/He tried to make him tough/Always afraid to give him too much love…" will ring true to anyone who’s read Take It Like A Man or watched Worried About The Boy.

In musical terms, it’s merely a foreshadowing of what’s to come. After the anomalous ‘It’s Easy’, an old-timey country heartbreaker in the style of Patsy Cline, there follows a run of five successive reggae tracks, perhaps unsurprisingly for an album that’s produced by Richie Stevens and features cameos from none other than Dennis Bovell.

The first of these, ‘My Star’, is dominated by rapper Unknown MC’s apocalyptic ruminations. Another Lover’s Rocker, ‘Love And Danger’, features a writing credit for Culture Club’s Mikey Craig. The jubilant skank of ‘Nice And Slow’ is likeable despite its cringey product placement ("I’m just like Patsy/I got my sparkle back again"), and has a guest spot from Dreadzone’s MC Spee, as does the expansive dubplate ‘Play Me’. Finally, ‘Feel The Vibration’ delivers a fire-and-brimstone prophecy with the help of Arabic oud player Nizar Al Issa.

If all you want from Boy George is to hear his voice caressing a reggae melody the way it did on ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’ or ‘Everything I Own’, This Is What I Do leaves you spoiled for choice. Ruined, in fact.

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