Put on the spot on a TV show and asked the title of his next album, Boy George blurted out This Is What I Do. It wasn't as random as this story suggests, the title was one of a few being mulled over, but the decision was instant and it has stuck.
The simple statement of fact - This Is What I Do - is telling and significant because so much has gone on over the years to actually obscure what George does and who he is.
'It's about re-establishing myself musically to say this is what I do. I was at the Brits a couple of years ago and some unexpected people were giving me name checks, like Cee Lo Green and Arcade Fire. It made me think, a lot of people know who I am and have this affection for me but they don't really know why they like me. I had to ask myself, well who and what are you?'
George is famous enough for all of us to have an opinion and think we know who he is. On This Is What I Do we are likely to be confounded. Close your eyes, empty your mind, and as another 80s pop star once said, listen without prejudice. This may be the best record he's ever made. It's the record he's always had the promise to make but only now through life experience has been able to find a direct line to his muse.
In the process he freed his spirit to explore not just his own psyche but the diverse influences that have inspired him over the years - from dub to rap, Woolwich to Jamaica, glam rock to country, mean streets to sunny uplands.
‘I went back to the soul, the essence of what I do. That’s been important for me. There have been a few periods over the years where I didn’t listen to music. It was almost like the birds stopped singing. I can measure my own wellness by how much I listen to music.
‘With this record we were playing lots of stuff in the studio, random things that weren’t anything to do with what we were doing, but to get a feeling. We were listening to lots of what I call baggy music, music that is not programmed, slightly out of time, a bit loose, has its own footprint. I do a lot of dance stuff as a DJ and in collaboration with other people and I wanted to step away from that and do something more organic. I know that’s clichéd but that’s what I was after.’ The list of listening ranged from early Bowie and the Stones to Cockney Rebel, Nico and Lou Reed.
‘The album was easy to make. There’s a lot of love on it, a lot of love, and people I’ve worked with over the years came and contributed.’ Just that statement, to those who knew George in his Culture Club days is shocking in itself. Recording sessions were always filled with drama and George hated the studio environment virtually being dragged in to do his vocals and running out as fast as he could.
‘Making albums has always been a drama for me, but this was just beautiful and if I do another Culture Club record it has to be fun. It doesn’t have to be a headache. We get paid to do what we love. It’s such a pleasure to do what we do.
‘The album started off with reggae as the template but then it branched out into other things. We didn’t want to restrict ourselves because you’ve got to honour the song, so if a song has a certain type of energy you can’t force it into a genre.
‘We went back to the 70s which was the time that shaped me as a musician and a person. The 70s was such a bonkers decade, everything from the Sex Pistols to The Goombay Dance Band. Even though Culture Club were associated so much with the 80s our roots were in the 70s – reggae, glam rock, punk rock, disco, electro. I think this record is very 70s.’
George has stretched his musical repertoire while retaining his soulfulness and pop sensibility. He's found his inner rock god on My God, explored country swing on It's Easy, entered a dream-like altered state on Any Road, gone sultry and wistful on Death Of Samantha, and reminded us, and maybe himself, of his playful side on Nice And Slow.
The exploration of his musical roots mirrors the personal journey of self-discovery he has embarked on since becoming sober in 2008. Another milestone was turning 50 two years ago.
‘It was a huge turning point for me. I thought I’ve got to get my shit together, I’ve got to focus, this is important. I just felt I’d wasted a lot of time. I looked at myself and thought, God, I’ve done nothing. I know I’ve done a lot, I’ve always worked, I’ve grafted and always made money, but a lot of it was pointless because no one knew what I was doing.’
He changed management, got a new DJ agent and set out on the path to show the world the real Boy George, the one who had been obscured in a haze, some of it his own doing, some of it simply the myths that had built up around him.
There is a growing acknowledgement that George is one of those artists whose reputation needs to be reappraised. There have been a steady stream of these over the years. Antony Hegarty paid his tribute to George when they duetted on You Are My Sister in 2005. In 2010, Mark Ronson invited George to sing on Somebody To Love Me. Earlier this year George was a guest of Yoko Ono at the Meltdown festival.
This Is What I Do is set to further enhance that reappraisal and show the world that George is not only back, he’s an important artist with an irrepressible zest for life. When you connect your ears will quiver, your soul will shiver and you'll want to dance like Saint Vitus.