[…continued from last post]
So, to clarify where we are going with this, it’s not just what I think are the best tracks of Duran Duran. In fact, there will be no real singles in evidence here. One or two of these songs may have reached promo status in one territory or another. What I am investigating is a certain mood that the band have been capable of since day one, and yet, that reflective mood is at odds with the band’s somewhat crass image and reputation. Shall we continue?
I always liked the “Notorious” album as I felt it was the most cohesive work the band ever did in album form. DD albums usually careen all over the road, but the songs and the arrangements fit like an Italian suit that time out. Maybe it was all down to Nile Rogers, who finally produced a full album this time with them, after getting his feet wet with with mixing “Reflex” and producing “Wild Boys.” This might be the closest thing to a dance track on this theoretical album, but if so, it’s for subdued, late night slow dancing. In spite of the staccato horns, the lush synths airbrushed throughout the song were subtle counterpoint to the beautiful refrain that LeBon sang before each chorus.
This spartan ballad was barely there; just a touch of synth ambience, and some surgically minimal blues riffs that were almost like samples. This let LeBon carry the beautiful melody. At least until the middle eight where some whale song hijacked from Kate Bush and the dubbed out abstract jazz piano of Nick Rhodes took this song into uneasy listening territory before circling back to beauty.
This song was the linchpin of this album. This was the target that all of these songs had to be at least trying to reach. If Duran Duran wrote nothing else past 1987, I’d still remember them for this song. A song that practically defined languor and sensitivity. The acoustic guitar solo in the middle eight touched on Spanish guitar without going overboard. LeBon’s lyrical metaphor was rich. The band had earlier sent feelers in this direction; to the extent that young boys could. This was graduation time. The song seemed to be a re-examination of the theme of “Save A Prayer” as seen through older, wiser eyes. In the end, that descending chord hook seems to contain all of the regret and melancholy in the world.
I had big problems with “Liberty,” but the reserved, arid ballad “My Antarctica” had the chops to outlast this millstone of an album. When the band resurrected it as the B-side for “Ordinary World” when that came a few years later, then everyone got a chance to hear it. It’s the severe spinster librarian of the songs on this playlist, but it acts as a fine astringent palate cleanser to prep the listener for the next song.
Breath After Breath
Apparently it was down to Milton Nascimento’s friendship with DD guitarist Warren Cuccurullo [and for that we are grateful] that led to his being asked to co-write and duet with Duran Duran on this utterly gorgeous song. This song never fails to lift my heart every time I listen to it and listening to it as I am typing these words, I’m getting a little misty-eyed. It is so beautiful, that it is effortless to forget that the band performing this song ever had anything to do with a track like “Girls On Film.” The complex melody entwined between LeBon’s and Nascimento’s vocals is stunning.
Next: …Things Get Personal
I am so down with you on these five songs. I still marvel at the majesty of side two of “Big Thing”.
Mr. Ware – I miss Warren. He brought so much to the table. I just found out today that we can thank him for “Breath After Breath.” Amazing. Hold on to your bloomers – tomorrow we move into RCM era!
Mr. Ware – Oh, get over it!!
I know we’re well past the early albums now but I would have included Night Boat from the first one and The Chauffeur from Rio. Nicely textured and atmospheric stuff. I confess to not being particularly familiar with Notorious/Big Thing/Liberty but I’ll give your choices a spin. BTW I am tracking your posts and creating an Apple Music playlist from them. https://music.apple.com/us/playlist/duran-for-haters/pl.u-KYmVCZvX34k
jsd – “Night Boat” and “The Chauffeur” were too theatrical and florid for what I’m reaching for. I’m looking for beauty and dignity. Music at odds with the crass DD image. I have to say that the mood on this comp is really working for me. Thanks for making the Apple Music playlist. Homey don’t play dat… but it’s nice that you are doing that for those who do.
The first track that I really took to from Notorious (or, in my Weird Al-ified brain, Linoleum) was Winter Marches On (*cough* *cough* beauty and dignity).
Tim – Uh, watch this space…
I’ll second your suggestion of “The Chauffeur.” I find a lot of beauty in that song.
Have you heard Austra’s cover of “American Science?” It’s quite lovely.
Mathmandan – I noticed it recently when researching DD. I liked Austra when they opened for XX, but I got their debut album and was non-plussed. However, I must sample this cover on iTunes as I have beaten the drum for “American Science” since day one. I was so happy when the “Mastermixes” came out and America [and Brazil] got the remixes of it. But Austra will always get a nod from my corner for getting Gina X on wax again!
I love the collaboration with Gina X. I agree that Austra’s first album wasn’t the strongest, but the next two (Olympia and Future Politics) are more evolved and refined, and well worth a listen.
Mathmandan – Actually it was the singer’s vocals on the album that I had a problem with. I don’t remember disliking them live, but that sort of singing isn’t my favorite.
You probably won’t appreciate the vocals on their other albums either then. Still, I’d be curious to hear what you think of their DD cover!
I love Big Thing. It is the album you didn’t expect with a collection of sounds the band always hinted at wanting to make. My personal favorite track on the album is the instrumental, Lake Shore Driving. It is a spot on match for the sound that Gary Numan was making from 84 – 89. I’m sure many will think that should be a reason to avoid, but no, Numan made some of his most outlandish and confident music during that period.
Palomino is brilliant ambient Pop. But it’s the bravado of the opening three track, Big Thing, I Don’t Want Your Love and All She Wants that make it my 3rd favorite DD album
Echorich – Wow! Third favorite? It might be my second or third favorite but for the leaden title track that sees this often is excellent album docked a severe number of points. You really like “Big Thing?” Side one as a whole had scant virtue except for “Too Late Marlene” which gave a hint of side two.
I think it’s kind of interesting that you have such a negative reaction to Big Thing. I always felt it to be a track that belies the influences from the band’s youth. It’s Queen and Gary Glitter and maybe a bit of Status Quo informing a late 80s Pop track. What really attracts me to the song is the space they achieve in the sound. I think Too Late Marlene has a decidedly 70s feel to it as well. I love the piano and sax coda so much.
Echorich – I will say to this day that Warren Cuccurullo was the best DD guitarist. His melodic sense was impeccable. His skills, well established. But he did have a more metallic tone than Andy Taylor – who was more blues based to my ears. I felt that the metallic tone on “Big Thing” along with the rhythms, was sloppy and lax. Drop the same tone into “I Don’t Want Your Love” and it was exciting with those clipped dance rhythms. But the lobotomized Bonham drums on that cut were just fatal accompaniment for his guitar. The single version was radically different, and were it on the album instead, I would have surmounted a huge issue that kneecapped “Big Thing” right out of the gate for me.
As for Queen, Gary Glitter, and Status Quo. I’ve never liked them.
“Big Thing” is my favorite Duran LP. Yes, both sides. The deluxe edition reveals so much more including the all important unreleased 7” and 12” mixes of the title track which replaces the dirge like beat with a crisp dance beat. Completely transforms the song.
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That dirge beat you speak of is just the most dire thing I’ve ever heard that wasn’t by a metal band. I’ll have to sample on iTunes. Wow. So now it’s a Wang Chung song??!