Cheapness And Beauty

Boy George

Virgin, 1995

REVIEW BY: Peter Piatkowski


Boy George’s 1995 album Cheapness And Beauty is a primer on queer music. A companion to his memoir, Take It Like A Man, the record was a summation of the pop star’s musical history. Pop, glam rock, guitar rock, and theatrical MOR balladry are represented on the album’s 13 tracks; the lyrics also tell the story of queer life from the singer-songwriter’s witty, sharp point of view. One of the most flamboyant survivors of the ‘80s MTV generation as well as an elder statesman of the New Romantics, Boy George found a renewed creative vigour in the mid 1990s.

In the 1980s, Boy George (born George O’Dowd) found success with Culture Club, penning and singing lovelorn pop-soul ballads before embarking on a spotty solo career that saw the Boy embracing dance club culture. Underrated as a vocalist and songwriter, Boy George had a beautiful, soulful tenor that recalled Smokey Robinson. As a lyricist, he found pop triumph composing sad tunes about heartache and lost love. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

On Cheapness And Beauty, Boy George looks to his musical influences like Iggy Pop, Marc Bolan, and David Bowie. Joined by long-term collaborator John Themis, O’Dowd has crafted a smart, literate, at-times funny record. Avoiding the dance club, the songs on the album are rockers with crunchy, squealing guitars, and stomping drums. Thankfully, George avoids the rock cliché of snarling, applying his soulful croon to the power-pop. Though the album doesn’t sound groundbreaking or especially innovative, it’s still a compelling listen.

The record’s opener, a buzzy, industrial take on Iggy Pop’s classic “Funtime” is a great introduction to Cheapness And Beauty. It harkens back to George’s roots in ‘70s punk as well as how important Bowie and Pop are to his sound. It also delves into the singer’s queerness. Though Boy George was never quiet about his sexuality, his queerness was always shared with a heavy wink. With this record, he’s far more explicit about his identity. In the folk pop ditty, “Same Thing In Reverse” George sings unapologetically about same-sex love; “Genocide Peroxide” is an acid-tongued paean to drag, with allusions to gay icons Marilyn Monroe and James Dean.

The best song on the album, “Il Adore” is an austere, mournful ballad that addresses the AIDS crisis. His song touches on the grief, pain, and anger that the survivors of AIDS patients feel. As a survivor of the AIDS crisis, he sings the song in the voice of a careworn, exhausted mourner.

Cheapness And Beauty features some of Boy George’s most insightful, witty writing and passionate singing. It’s not a perfect record; there’s a sameness to some of the production, as one too many songs overuse electric guitars. It feels as if Boy George is trying to convince his listeners that he can be a legit glam rocker. So much of his solo work has been about convincing audiences and his critics that he’s a talented singer-songwriter, and not just the colourful pop moppet with the bowler hat and the extravagant makeup. There’s no need. The best songs on the album show off just how talented Boy George is.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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