How to sell a contradiction: “Karma Chameleon” is a song about frustration and confusion that consciously transforms itself into colourful frippery, and by doing this it gets its hooks into you even deeper. And such hooks! Though true to the song the very best ones dance around the tune’s edges – those little harmonica licks in the chorus, for instance, or the gorgeous middle eight: “Every day is like survival / You’re my lover and I’m my rival.”
That’s a fantastic lyric, by the way. A lot of the time on Popular when I talk about the lyrics to songs people reply, well, I never noticed them. And I think on “Karma Chameleon” you’re meant not to notice them. George is hiding lines like that – such an accurate jab at relationship paranoia – in the plain sight of his song’s bubbly joy, there to ambush you if they need to.
It’s tempting to relate that to what we now know about Culture Club – a band built around love and fracture that had to conceal and code those facts, turn its private dramas and traumas into a public game of hide and seek. Hear it as being about Jon Moss (or as a moment of self-analysis on George’s part) and you can turn “Karma Chameleon” into “Knowing Me Knowing You”.
But that would feel like a massive disservice to the song’s glorious blitheness. George himself never sounded better than here – flirting, sighing, now pleading now diffident. The rest of the band play a calypso-tinted pop soufflé: only the march-time part at the end falls flat – yes, yes, you’ve written a killer chorus, have the grace not to fuss about it. But in general when you have a façade as lovely as this it’s only right to let yourself be seduced and not go poking around too much behind it.