I was busy waxing nostalgic over past fan conventions yesterday, so I didn’t get to write about Big Thing. The album was released 29 years ago yesterday, which is impossible.
I’m pretty sure Big Thing was the first Duran Duran album I bought on cassette. I slightly cringe as I remember buying and storing it in the creaky, fabric-covered, plastic case I kept on the floor of the front seat in my Suzuki Samurai. I can still remember the sandy feeling the fabric of the suitcase had because I would drive with the top to the Samurai removed for most of the year. The nearly threadbare carpet on the floor of the car caught sand and whatever other grit was blowing through the air as I’d speed along the freeways of southern California. The case and tape, which I still have somewhere in this house, is pretty scratched up. I haven’t tried to play the tape in years, probably not since I traded in the Samurai. For quite a while, I didn’t have Big Thing on any other playable media in the house, and it wasn’t until I bought the MP3 that I had the chance to listen to the album in its entirety. Not that long ago, I added the vinyl of the album to my collection, along with the remastered CD, so I can fully appreciate its place in history.
When I first listened to Big Thing back in 1988, the album sounded like it had multiple personality disorder. I loved the song “Big Thing” even though I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what it was about. I liked the difference of the heavy beat to begin the album, but also appreciated the stacked harmonies that made it sound like a Duran Duran song. “I Don’t Want Your Love” was the song I would sing at the top of my lungs while driving back and forth from Cal State Fullerton during my freshman year. Let’s just say it healed many a wound during that time. It was a tumultuous time for me as I adjusted to college and dorm living. I wanted and needed recognizable Duran Duran – something that I never felt like I got from Notorious – and at least the first two songs off of Big Thing felt like they were in the right direction. But from there, the album changed direction, with the club-beat heavy “All She Wants Is”. At the time, the song felt out-of-place, even though it was (and remains) a hit in the ears of many Duranies. But then again, the album completely changes pace completely, with beautifully simple ballads like “Too Late Marlene”, “Do You Believe in Shame”, “Land” and “Palomino”. These are what a friend once characterized as Duran’s watershed moments. Never to be dull, a song like “Drug” was thrown in the mix to throw listeners completely off-kilter, the sudden change always unnerved me. Ending with “Edge of America”, flowing into “Lakeshore Driving”, Duran’s answer to jam-session recording carries out the uncomfortable pacing of the album as the tape abruptly ran out as I would begin to settle into a daydream.
I never could find fault with any one song on the album, although I certainly have my preferences, but as a whole, I never cared for the constant change in direction or personality. Did the band want to go for a club sound? Why was the back half mainly ballad? I can remember not loving the ballads back in the late 80s, as I was more of a guitar-driven hard-rock kind of gal, but they’ve grown on me in years since, as has the entire album.
Big Thing is one of those Duran albums that, for the longest time, I didn’t really count among my favorites. It has grown to be one that I consistently play. I know why Duran Duran looks to “Ordinary World” as the ballad to play live, but I believe that gems like “Palomino” and “Land” have been completely overlooked in the process. There is really no other song I would rather crank up to “10” in my car than “Edge of America”, and I can zone out to “Lakeshore Driving” pretty much anywhere. “Big Thing” is a great song to wake me up, and when I’m feeling melancholy, I tune in to “Do You Believe in Shame”. What once felt like a personality disorder now feels a lot more like the emotional roller coaster of any week in my life.
Big Thing has not only aged well, the rough transitions have mellowed out, and it plays fantastic at the ripe age of 29. Once again, Duran Duran proves they write to withstand the course of time. Happy Birthday, Big Thing!