Culture Club’s reunion couldn’t have come at a better time for rock. So says lead singer Boy George, never one to stifle an opinion.
“There is a serious lack of theater in rock ‘n’ roll,” says George, 37, in an interview from Virginia Beach, Va. “Great songs are being written all the time, but there’s a real lack of color and vibrance.”
Enter Culture Club, the colorful band from the ‘80s, now on a tour featuring fellow synth-pop ‘80s acts the Human League and Howard Jones. Titled “The Big Rewind Tour,” it is expected to reach Southern California on its second leg in the fall.
“It’s a nostalgia trip, there’s no way of avoiding that,” says George of the tour, the band’s first in 13 years. “In terms of the theatrical aspects of Culture Club, and my character, there isn’t really much competition in the music business right now. There’s only Marilyn Manson. He’s the only person with a hot look.”
Makeup techniques aside, George says Culture Club sounds better than ever. Of course, he adds, “We used to be terrible live. We were awful.”
Part of the improvement is the augmentation of the original quartet of George, guitarist Roy Hay, bassist Michael Craig and drummer Jon Moss.
“We always had extra musicians,” says the flamboyant singer, born George O’Dowd. “But one of the things we never had in the old days was a percussion player, which was really stupid, because there was so much percussion in our stuff.”
That stuff included such hits as “Karma Chameleon,” “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” and “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya.”
Maturity has helped his interpretations of songs as well, he says. “I feel much more qualified to sing certain songs than I did 10 to 15 years ago.”
But maturity was also behind the reunion of the group, which came together after a bitter dissolution. Part of it revolved around George’s relationship with Moss.
As detailed in his 1995 autobiography, “Take It Like a Man,” drugs only made things worse. “It’s always the thing that tears things apart with any band,” says George, who admitted a heroin addiction in 1986.
The reunion was egged on by a popular VH1 “Behind the Music” episode in which the Culture Club soap opera was laid bare. And it is, because of the personal intrigue, at least as tangled emotionally as the Fleetwood Mac reunion.
“In a way, there is a huge similarity,” George says. “You know, Stevie Nicks was singing songs written by her ex-lover about their own breakup. ‘You Can Go Your Own Way.’ Stuff like that.
“I don’t how I’d feel if Jon were writing the songs,” he adds, with a wicked laugh.
Reuniting--first for a VH1 “Storytellers” concert that was released Tuesday as part of a double album “VH1 Storytellers/Greatest Moments,” and now with the tour--has been “a huge healing process for everybody in this band,” he says.
“I think that probably applies to Fleetwood Mac as well. I don’t think you could ever separate the emotional issues and causes from what you do musically. It’s a bit naive to think Fleetwood Mac are any different than Culture Club in that respect.”
The reconvened Culture Club is getting along, George says, “but it’s not like we’ve had any Oprah Winfrey-type confessionalism. We’ve literally carried on where we left off.
“There are all sorts of underlying elements, and things that haven’t been said, and probably never will be said,” George says.
“The others don’t do confrontation very well. So I’ve had to learn to control my responses to things and try not to be deliberately confrontational. But that’s a battle for me,” he says. “A daily battle.”
But he always has been fairly direct in writing, where “I use my songs to exorcise those demons and discuss those things.”
Still, few people venture to make the connections in songs such as the new single, “Just Wanna Be Loved.”
“Everybody knows it’s about Jon, but nobody actually says that,” he says. “It’s almost as if they don’t dare.”
Culture Club has not been one to harbor secrets in its songs or its lifestyles. While, say, George Michael denied for years his homosexuality, Boy George’s gayness was obvious from the first record sleeve.
In many ways, Culture Club kicked open the door to coming out in rock ‘n’ roll, more than a decade before it was OK to do so in a TV sitcom.
But the tolerance landscape hasn’t changed that much in the intervening years, George says. “A lot of people have this very naive assumption that the world’s become a much more liberal place. But I’m not of that opinion.
“Yeah, some doors were kicked down. But I think they’ve been put up again. There’s kind of a surface acceptance of the gay persona. When you get down to it, people are no more comfortable with the nitty-gritty of gay life than they were 20 years ago.”
To be sure, Culture Club fans, he says, “can be pretty open-minded to a certain degree. They’re going to be comfortable with it, as long as you spare them the details. That’s how my mother was: ‘Yes, I know you’re gay, but I don’t want to know about it.’ ”
Boy George hopes to continue his solo career, which has produced three albums. But whether Culture Club’s reunion is more than a summertime nostalgia trip, “I don’t think that will be defined until we make another studio album and see how people respond to that,” he says.
The band plans to reenter the studio later this year.