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Episode 13 – Discussion of Duran Duran’s Notorious

We will discuss the latest new wave news, and discuss Duran Duran’s “Notorious”
0:00 – New Wave news
5:18 – Discussion of Duran Duran’s “Notorious”

New Wave News

Howard Jones Tour

I spoke previously about Howard Jones’ upcoming tour, and I would now like to give more details about it. The shows are in much more intimate venues across the United States, and Jones will have no backing band. He will be playing the songs on a piano instead of a synth. Furthermore he will be interjecting the songs with commentary on how his songs were created, among other things. I’m looking forward to his Chicago show! Jones has also contributed a new song for the upcoming animated film “Animal Crackers.” I heard a sneak peek, and it’s quite catchy: kind of sounds like a dancy “Things Can Only Get Better”.

Russell Mulcahy Discussion

The curators of the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra Australia will be having a discussion of the body of work of Australian music video director Russell Mulcahy. This discussion will include highlights from some of the music videos, some of which I had discussed in prior episodes. Mulcahy was responsible for many iconic ‘80s music videos, working with artists such as Duran Duran, Culture Club, and the Human League. Mulcahy’s work is recognizable by the use of fast cuts, tracking shots and use of glowing lights. You might also know Mulcahy as the director for the 1986 classic “Highlander”. Mulcahy: there can be only one. Tickets are available and are free.

Pretenders Tour

After opening for Phil Collins in one of his concerts for March, Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Pretenders will embark on a brief, 7-date tour of the United States this spring. They will focus on the Northeast and Southeast. Unfortunately they are not giving the other parts of the US a lot of love. Afterwards they will do a larger tour of Britain. In both tours they will continue to support their album “Alone” which came out 2 years ago. The aforementioned album was produced by Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach, who I will get to see live in a couple of months.

B-52s Milkshake

The B-52s are teaming up with Shake Shack on an adventurous new milkshake. Appropriately named the “Love Shack Shake”, it will be a strawberry blonde milkshake topped with whipped cream and glitter sprinkles. In the song “Love Shack”, it is mentioned that there is glitter in various places, like the mattress, so why not on their signature milkshake? Some of the  proceeds from the Love Shack Shake will help fund Canine Companions for Independence, which helps provide disabled people service dogs. I would love to drink one, but unfortunately for me one can only get them in the US’s 2 largest cities of New York and LA, along with Atlanta, which is also referenced in “Love Shack”.

Cyndi Lauper Advocacy

Cyndi Lauper has long been a champion for human rights, and the past month has been no exception. She recently appeared at the Grammys award show, supporting Kesha’s stand against sexual harassment. Lauper said of her support against harassment “Sisterhood is a powerful thing”. And just now Lauper has been tapped by former US vice president Joe Biden’s foundation to serve in its LGBTQ Equality Advisory Council. Lauper and other council members will convene at least once a year to discuss such matters. Biden said of the councils “in America, everyone deserves a fair shot at the American dream. That starts by making sure every person is treated with equal dignity”.

Simple Minds Album

Simple Minds, having released a new album dubbed “Walk Between Worlds”, have released a 5-minute promo video discussing the creation of the album. Jim Kerr of the band mentioned that “All the songs were kind of about abstract religious content, about faith or your faith or the maintenance of faith”. In speaking with the Yorkshire Post, the band explained that the album is only 8 songs as they are advocates of concise albums. They lamented the fact that, in the ‘90s, CDs would allow one to fit in 15 songs, which may lead to filler with a lot of artists.

Depeche Mode Timepieces

Depeche Mode’s Question of Time has been answered: the band has teamed up with Hublot to create a very-limited edition series of 55 themed timepieces. Each watch represents one of Depeche Mode’s singles, and comes with a free synthesizer, the likes of which they used to create many of their hits. Proceeds will go to help people have access to clean drinking water. Unlike Depeche Mode’s music, these timepieces aren’t exactly for the masses. A search for these watches on Google revealed price tags between $17,000 and $22,000. But still, the money goes to a good cause. Indeed, Depeche Mode have been involved in various charitable efforts throughout their 35-plus year career.

Duran Duran’s “Notorious” Album

1986 was a crossroads year for Duran Duran. With 40% of their band gone, Duran Duran soldiered on. They went in a different direction personnel and music-wise with the album Notorious. As mentioned before, Roger and Andy Taylor decided not to return to the band. Andy’s lead guitar role was filled by Warren Cuccurullo, who would be with the band for a while. Cuccurullo had some serious guitar chops, having been in Frank Zappa’s band, along with new wave group The Missing Persons. After the retooling, Duran Duran once again teamed up with Nile Rodgers from Chic, but this time for an entire album. The result, the album “Notorious”, has some R&B leanings and naturally it had an even stronger Chic influence. Horn synths permeate throughout the album, kind of similar to funk band Cameo’s sound in the ‘80s, and a little like Adam Ant’s solo debut in 1982. One thing to note is their album cover. To signal the incarnation of the band, the album eschews bright colors and fashion in favor of a black-and-white shot of the band in suits, looking serious, almost stern. The cover reminds me of new wave artist Nik Kershaw’s 1984 album called “The Riddle”, and perhaps these 2 albums inspired U2’s “Joshua Tree album. All three covers have black-and-white photos featuring serious looking music artists in a barren landscape. Take a look at the album covers for yourself.

Notorious

Duran Duran is known for their vocal hooks that are not words, and “Notorious” is no exception. The song begins with “No-No-Notorious”, and then the listener is treated to a great opening bass line by John Taylor. It sounds kind of like the bass line in the song “Heart of Stone” by R&B group “The Silver Convention”. The song definitely has some R&B leanings, courtesy of Nile Rodger’s production, and LeBon’s vocals reflect this. I must also mention the prominent horn section that defined the sound of the song and album. My stab at Notorious’ meaning is that is about the way the media handled Duran Duran. This fits with other songs that the band wrote. The band hates the treatment, as evidenced by the line “can’t read about it, burns the skin from your eyes”. Duran Duran implores the media not to monkey with their business, and says that they use money to justify their reasons, I assume to smear the band. The video features shots of the album covers, and was shot mainly in black-and-white. It mainly consists of the band performing live and a group of backup dancers. The band’s clothing style is kind of a continuation of their wardrobe when they were the splinter group Arcadia in 1985. Notorious was a pretty large hit, almost topping the US charts at #2. Of course it was natural that rapper Notorious B.I.G. got his hands on “Notorious” for one of his songs.

Skin Trade

The song “Skin Trade” ups the funk game from the song “Notorious”. “Skin Trade” has LeBon singing in falsetto at parts, and his singing is even more funkier than “Notorious”. It reminds me of Prince or David Bowie in his plastic soul phase. The bass in “Skin Trade”, as in the song “Notorious”, is really good and complements the other R&B elements of the song. During the bridge there is a really dirty horn part that showcases the new direction Duran Duran was taking with this album. On the surface, “Skin Trade” sounds like it is about prostitution, judging by the song title, and keywords like “exploitation” and “money”. However, it could also be a sonic sibling of the song “Notorious” as it might talk about the band pimping out itself for a buck. The video is kind of similar to “Notorious” as it has the band performing, and female choreography. The quick flashing of vibrant colors reminds me a bit of late ‘80s R&B videos. While “Skin Trade” is a good song, the video seems a little formulaic considering the inventive videos the band was known for. “Skin Trade”, was not a blockbuster hit, but managed to make the top 40 in the United States.

Meet el Presidente

“Meet el Presidente” was the 3rd single off of “Notorious”. I will talk about the single version which was a little more adventurous than the album version. The song begins with a rapid-fire horn sample which is a great hook in my opinion. The vocals are full of hooks, including some “ooos” which is a bridge to Duran Duran’s earlier work. There are also solid female backup vocals which add an R&B flavor. Finally, the drums are vigorous at times, a little like Adam and and the Ants. “Meet el Presidente” reminded me of Arcadia’s “Election Day” with its faux-political content and theme of lust. “Hell hath no fury like a young girl’s secret” is a powerful line out of the song. There is also “put a stripe on the union, a star on the jack” which is interesting.The video is almost a clone of the “Notorious” video, which disappointed me. The band is performing live, including newly-recruited guitarist Cucurullo. A horn section is shown, again to show the band’s new direction. Unfortunately “Meet el Presidente” failed to crack the top 40, a commercial disappointment for the band. While it was a very good song, it was harder for new wavers to score big hits after 1985.

American Science

“American Science” sonically is a lot about the catchy drum loops and horn section, and is a good comedown from the energy of the song “Notorious”. John Taylor’s Chic-esque bass guitar is underrated in this one. LeBon’s vocals are smoother and mellower than in the 3 singles for “Notorious”. The chorus has a cool 4-note horn riff which is probably the best instrumental hook of the song. I should note the bridge has an interesting lead guitar from Cucurullo, which foreshadowed his increased participation in many of Duran Duran’s songs. I interpret the song as a critique of some of the aspects of American culture. For instance, lyrics like “a little megalomania”.

A Matter of Feeling

“A Matter of Feeling” starts off with a calming flute and I think the intro has a bit of an Asian motif to it. LeBon’s vocals, like “American Science”, are restrained but there are still rewarding vocal hooks. There are no horns in song, which differentiates it from much of the album. Lyrically the song is rich in content. I would say it is about someone who wants to form a meaningful romantic relationship. LeBon asks “Do crowds make you feel lonely?”, suggesting a desire to go with quality rather than quantity in relationships. Interestingly “A Matter of Feeling” was released as a single, but only in Brazil.

Hold Me

“Hold Me” sounds kind of different from the other tracks, and could find a comfortable home on the “7 and the Ragged Tiger” album. There is a good lead guitar section in this song and is more prominent than most of the other songs off “Notorious”. LeBon’s vocal is catchy, especially in the chorus, and recalls their early ‘80s sound. Although Roger Taylor is no longer the drummer by this album, the drum section sounds pretty good. I think this song is about honesty and opening up to a romantic partner. For example, “Does the body you conceal need the touch of someone’s hand?” and “When the passions you ignore you can never hide.

Vertigo

“Vertigo”, whose song title was inspired by an Alfred Hitchcock’s movie of the same name, is an underrated track off “Notorious”. There an an insistent synth that plays through most of the song, which adds to its danceability. The inflection at “twisted in a vise” by LeBon is killer, and you can expect more of the same throughout. The female vocal repeating “maybe” sounds soulful.The lyrics were a little hard for me to interpret but it might be about drug addiction. There are references like “Just need a little hit tonight.”. Perhaps the line “Do the Demolition” refers to self-sabotage, which happens often with overuse of drugs.

So Misled

Next up is the song “So Misled”. There is a great bassline that permeates through the song. LeBon’s vocals are good but there are better hooks on the other songs off “Notorious”. While the album is solid, “So Misled” did not resonate with me. I feel the song has good elements to it but the whole is less than the sum of its parts. The lyrics are a little slight and perhaps could have been beefed up. In my opinion “So Misled” is about a month-long romantic relationship that went sour, in part evidenced by the song title. LeBon laments that the relationship was, quote, “such an awful choice”.

Winter Marches On

“Winter Marches On” is a slower atmospheric song that could have been on the 2nd side of side band Arcadia’s “So Red the Rose” album, kind of like a shorter “Lady Ice”. Indeed, lyrics like  “She drains emotion“ recall “Lady Ice”. There is a sleighbell-like synth or drum that forms the basis of the song. And Rhode’s synths are moody and top-notch. LeBon’s vocals are emotive without being over-the-top, and match the mood of the song well. “Winter Marches On” could be literally about a long, gloomy winter, or it could be about a woman who acts aloof and cold. The line “Dreams have frozen” suggest it is due to dashed dreams.

Proposition

Last but not least off of “Notorious” is the album track “Proposition”, which is a good companion to the album’s 3 singles. The intro contains the slightly-high pitched synth that forms the backbone for the rest of the song. The vocals in “Proposition” has the usual hooks and inflections from LeBon that make it solid. There is a prominent, tight horn section and the bridge has some cool guitar flourishes from Cucurullo. The lyrics are relatively dark for Duran Duran, with lines like “clouds have lain shame on your generation” and “wasted for desolation”. The song may be about bad decisions made by society, and the proposition is a chance for redemption. I would be curious to get your takes on the song’s meaning.

We Need You

The singles off the album “Notorious had just 1 b-side in “We Need You”. The beginning sounds a little dissonant but segues into a soothing, melancholy ballad. There are not a lot of lyrics but it might be about the band telling Andy Taylor “we need you”, referring to Andy’s reluctance to rejoin the band in 1986.

While full-blown Duranmania subsided, the band still had a decent contingent on their tours, and they still got to play at amphitheatres and sports arenas. It gave the band a chance to breathe and not be constantly mobbed by fans, so perhaps it was a silver lining to their decrease in popularity.

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