Monday, September 27, 2010

I Only Want to Be in Your Record Collection: Big Thing Revisited

(a/k/a An answer to the question "What does a band do after the shark's been jumped?")

Unexpectedly, it's a big month for Duran Duran fans.

(Full disclosure: If you're reading this blog, chances are you know this about me already, but it bears repeating... I'm one of the world's biggest Duran Duran fans. All things considered, it's pretty incredible that I've refrained from devoting a blog entry solely to Duran Duran up until now.)

So why the big week?:
It's this last item that I'd like to walk you through: The reissue of Duran Duran's Big Thing - their 1988 album that was anything but. By 1988, Duran Duran was in an interesting place. The 80s were nearly over; as a band they had already been through the 1985 implosion that saw both Andy and Roger Taylor leave the band and they had put out Notorious, their funkiest album to date that was a fairly drastic departure from their first three albums. These latter two developments, combined with the fact that their fan base from Rio and Seven and the Ragged Tiger no longer had screaming in the repertoire, put them at a point in their career where few bands get to, and even fewer bands rebound from.

Big Thing did not provide that rebound point, but it did put them at the the bravest point in their career. Whether out of necessity or desire to shake the foundation, they put together an album that didn't sell very well, but forced them to adjust to the changing music times. Big Thing also revealed a bigger input into the band's sound by guitarist Warren Cuccurullo... a welcome addition that would later reward the band with the hits Ordinary World and Come Undone.

And how your average 18 year old fan reacts to this album (that would be me, by the way) is very telling of the times, which I'll get into. Let's look track by track:
  1. Big Thing - This song sent a message...this isn't the Duran Duran you're familiar with (in fact, with this album, they made a short-lived branding shift, eliminating the space in their name, going with "Duranduran"...yeah, not one of their brightest decisions). In the first 30 seconds you hear screeching guitars, a bitter Simon and some female background vocals that wouldn't sound out of place on a classic Pink Floyd album.
  2. I Don't Want Your Love - The first single from Big Thing. How do I know this? Because I watched MTV ad nauseum the week it came out, waiting with my finger on the VCR pause button, hoping to catch the new video. 
  3. All She Wants Is - In my head, I have a running top ten of the worst Duran Duran songs ever. This isn't in the top three, but it's damn close. Duran Duran and house music don't mix.
  4. Too Late Marlene - This always sounded like a track that might have been leftover from the Arcadia sessions.
  5. Drug (It's Just A State Of Mind) - Remember that top ten of the worst Duran Duran songs ever? This is there too.
  6. Do You Believe In Shame? - A classic Duran Duran song that would have sounded strong on any of their albums...it's cut from the same cloth as Save a Prayer, Come Undone and Michael, You've Got a Lot to Answer For. There's only one slight problem with this song...it's a total ripoff of Creedence Clearwater Revival's Suzy-Q. Don't believe me? Have a look: 
  7. Palomino - This track, along with the rest of the album are the closest thing Duran Duran ever got to side 2 of The Beatles Abbey Road. It flows wonderfully even though each track is unique.
  8. Interlude One - The first of two "interludes" which are primarly Nick Rhodes dabbling in soundscapes. It's something he does very well. 
  9. Land - Land is mostly an acoustic track that's fits perfectly here.
  10. Flute Interlude - Nick's second soundscape from this album, and the better of the two.
  11. The Edge Of America - This is a track that wound up giving fans a taste of what to expect from the band in the future, particularly on The Wedding Album.
  12. Lake Shore Driving - This is the exclamation point that sends another strong message to fans that the Duran Duran you just heard is fueled by something other than yachts and flashy suits...gone is the Duran Duran that described itself as "Chic meets the Sex Pistols". In its place is a band willing to stack itself up against the hair metal, house and rap that its in competition with today (1988). It's the sound of Warren pushing the band to a different area. Overall it worked...the record didn't sell, and Duran Duran wandered for a few years after this, but to their credit, they stuck around and kept making music.
It's worth putting a few other things into perspective about this album:
  • Duran Duran promoted this album with a fairly heavy world tour and TV appearances. And where might a band in 1988 promote their album? Yep, that's right, on The Arsenio Hall Show (WOOF! WOOF! WOOF!) where they performed one of my favorite versions of Girls on Film:



  • This reissue includes a second disc full of bonus tracks, most of which are remixes. It's worth noting that I own all of these on cassingles...that's right, cassingles, one of the most annoying music formats in existence: one cassette, two songs and the most flimsy of cardboard cases.
  • Wait a second, I owned these tracks both in cassingle and CD3, the second-most annoying music formats in existence! They however, cannot compete with my unopened Rio 8-Track:
The Chauffeur suffers the indignity of straddling programs 3 and 4
  • The reissue also includes a grand Duran Duran tradition, a b-side track that is better than some of those that appeared on the actual album. In this case, I Believe/All I Need to Know.
  • You know how else I know this album was issued in 1988? The bonus disc has two "spoken word" selections from Simon LeBon. We know better now, right?
    Does the album hold up 22 years later? Despite a few dodgy house music-influenced tracks, I think it does. In fact, I think it's aged quite well. It's no Rio, but then again, what is? I certainly enjoy owning it in MP3 form, rather than on one CD, several cassingles and a few CD3s.