We are finally onto a new album!! Next up is Big Thing, and this week we will review the title track. Big Thing was released in 1988 and reached #15 in the UK and #24 in the US. Big Thing also marks the first full album with Warren Cuccurullo, although he was not a full songwriting partner at this point, and became a full-time member only after the band finished the Electric Theatre Tour in promotion of Big Thing. Were his contributions evident, and how did the band really change between Notorious and Big Thing? Let’s take a deeper look!
This is SO different from Notorious, I have to wonder if it’s even the same band, and in many ways…it is not. They definitely turn the corner from funk into something entirely different. Plenty of people characterize the album as the band’s foray into House Music…and while I’m not quite sure I’d call it House, it’s definitely leaning in that direction at times. Big Thing reminds me much more of aggressive dance music, and definitely doesn’t seem like the same band who wrote Rio or Girls on Film. I almost feel as though they were really trying to erase the band (for teenyboppers) they once were by going after a more mature, aggressive, sound. I like the way the sound starts out with drum beats and then the chanting of the chorus with a plenty of guitar riffs in the background. The song has a ton of texture, and I do enjoy the way the juxtaposition of the rock, almost experimental-souding guitar feels against the synthesizer loops and even a horn section. I will say the latter 1/3 of the song is so filled with layer upon layer that it really begins to be frenetic cacophony…if you’ve got any sort of anxiety this song will send you over the edge. This is the first full album where Warren Cuccurullo participates, and his influence is evident with the soaring hard rock guitar riffs. It adds an edge that has been missing to the music since the first album, which I applaud here.
I have to say, I like the chanting of the chorus. It’s so different compared to their other albums, and it opens Big Thing perfectly. I like the way the song feels like call and response in certain sections. Otherwise, I think Simon’s vocals are well-matched to the song. This isn’t a song meant for mellow lyrics, and while I think Simon strains a bit in the higher sections of the verses, in some odd way it works for the song.
I have heard of these lyrics meaning one of two things to fans: the first being all about marketing and exploitation, and the other being sex. Sex is the go-to, easy answer here. With lyrics like “Lick it up, suck it up, stick it outside”…Simon didn’t give us much room to go elsewhere, did he? That said, I think that was the point, really. Let’s face it – “sex” is his pat answer for lyric meanings, and I’m assuming at this point that his feeling is that anything can have a sexual connotation. He’s probably right. That said, I can see the exploitation and marketing angle as well. The chanting of the lyrics are almost as though they’re reciting what they’re being told…it’s almost robotic in a way. “This is temptation (station), power rotation (to station)” , it’s like they’re “selling” themselves and their music to get air play. “So glad you came around, this time you won’t be wrong, You’ve got to turn it on, and you’re not the only one”…I personally think this song really is all about the business of getting their music heard. That Simon, he’s a smart one with his lyrics… I say well-done.
I like this song, and I think it’s a fantastic album opener. I like the way it’s a huge departure from the overall sound of Notorious, and that the band was willing to take a chance with their music and try something new. I think the song is cheeky and yet there’s still a message to hear for those who want to dig deep enough to find it, and I like that Simon was smart with his writing. I welcome Warren’s addition to their music, and I really liked the hard edge he brought to the table here. The one negative I have for this song is the last 1/3 of the song is incredibly noisy with far too much going on, but I think that has more to do with the artistic choices than production, meaning it’s what the band wanted. I just don’t know that it translates all that well.
This song is one that I struggle to even think about the instrumentation because the lyrics and vocals are so dominant, so noticeable. Nonetheless, I attempted to focus on the instrumentation for the purpose of this review. The song doesn’t allow you to just get into it slowly. No, it right away starts with drums. In fact, drums are pretty much present throughout, creating pretty aggressive instrumentation. Guitars are there, too. Keyboards, on the other hand, do not feel like as major of an instrument in this one. While this song is very different than the previous album, horns are still present. Perhaps, they function as a transition of sorts. The question then is this change from funk to more aggressive music a welcome change. It definitely catches your attention and let’s everyone know that, once again, Duran Duran has changed.
Where to start with the vocals on this one? Clearly, this isn’t your usual Duran. Instead of Simon singing, we have layered vocals during the chorus with each line being almost shouted or chanted. The vocals are much more aggressive than what can be found on most Duran Duran songs. What is interesting to me is that the lines that are less chanted give a sense that something untrustworthy or sneaky is happening. Is this helped by the lyrics? Absolutely. Truly, there is a lot going on here vocally. In fact, there is so much going on that you could probably listen to the song a bunch and still not catch it all.
If the vocals for this one don’t catch your attention, the lyrics probably will. I don’t remember where I heard that this song is supposed to be about the attempts bands/artists make to get a song to chart or to move up the chart. This meaning seems to fit, especially with lines like, “Move it up move it out move up the line. This is temptation power rotation.” The lyrics definitely make me think that getting a song to chart is a lot of hard work and that you really have to convince people, which makes sense considering the work they attempted to do with the previous album, Notorious. Obviously, the lyrics are built around a couple of principles. First, there is a lot of repetition here, whether it is “get…get…get” or “bang…bang…bang”. Then, there are a lot of lines built around the idea of rhyming. These are important for the vocal style that this song exhibits. That said, while I understand why the lyrics are the way they are, I can’t say I’m a huge fan. Could they be about radio play? Sure. Are they also written to imply sex? Sure. To me, both interpretations seem too obvious.