As I mentioned earlier this week, Amanda and I felt that it would be fun to do our own review of each song off of the album, and today we begin that journey by reviewing All You Need Is Now. If you haven’t already downloaded this song off of iTunes, you really should! As an early Christmas present from the band, the song is free for today, Wednesday December 8th, 2010!
The reality is, neither Amanda nor I are music experts – except perhaps in our own heads. This review section is purely our take on the new music and is part of an examination we are doing of the Duran Duran’s music as a whole. We aren’t expecting anyone to wholly agree with us, as it’s purely our take – just as when you listen to music, you make your own judgements. You may find in reading that Amanda and I will not always agree or get the same take from the same song. Personally, that’s what makes music so amazing: two people can listen to the same song and come away feeling completely different things.
A couple disclaimers aside from the above:
1. We are not employees of Duran Duran. They aren’t holding us in duress, nor are they telling us what to say and write.
2. We pay for our own music. We do not receive early copies of their music and we listen to the same grade of music as everyone else.
The way we will handle reviews from this point forward is that both Amanda and myself will each do our own review within the blog. We have 4 basic categories that we will review – Musicality/instrumentation, Lyrics (the writing), Vocals (yes Simon – we have a “special” category just for you!), and Production (or aspects thereof). Finally, we will wrap up with overall feelings of the song, and then we will give an overall rating. Hope that makes sense – R
Our rating system is simple, and very indicative of our personality:
1 cocktail: It’s really not our thing and honestly at this point the band should be sending US cocktails just to keep listening.
2 cocktails: It could really use work. There are problems in most, if not all, areas of the song/album. It’s not making our ears bleed yet, but it’s close.
3 cocktails: It’s not bad, but it’s not great either. We aren’t going to turn it off, but we might not actively listen either.
4 cocktails: We’re liking what we hear! It reminds us as to why we’re still fans after all of this time!
5 cocktails: AMAZING! Can this band really get much better?!? This is the Duran we know and love!
Of course, we may even do half cocktails when necessary!
Amanda’s take (as of now and is always subject to change!)
This song is not static as it changes. The first part is a rather in-your-face electro. It is rather jarring and definitely not what one thinks of when they think of Duran Duran. For that reason alone, I think I like it. It is hard to miss and would definitely get people’s attention. I also think it is fitting for the lyrics, which I will get to. It also reminds of the Reflex, in terms of different introductions. I remember when that song came out and everyone wondered about the beginning. Yet, now, we can’t imagine the song beginning any other way. Even with the electro part, the song feels like essential Duran on all levels, including musically. The instruments are all present, which is a welcome return! I adore the fact that the song goes through all of these changes from the intro to the verses to the chorus to the build up back to the chorus to the end. Yet, throughout all of the different parts, the song is upbeat and makes you want to hear more!
The thing I noticed about Simon’s vocals is that the mood they created in me changed as the song changed. In the beginning, he was more abrupt, more straightforward but with the chorus, he was more melodic. This change seemed to match both the music and the lyrics, which is really what matters to me in the long run!
Lyrics make a big difference in my ability to appreciate or like a song. If I can personally relate to a song, it will really enhance it for me. I think that is true for a lot of people. Anyway, I heard the chorus of this song before I knew all of the lyrics. When I heard the chorus, I felt in my gut that this song was to us, the fans. Then, the rest of the lyrics just continued that feeling! We do have to “sway” like when we were “younger” and have to let the music play “a little longer”. Then, I started thinking about touring and it makes even more sense with the line about the VIP section. The message seems clear. Embrace the music. Embrace being a fan. Enjoy it. Nothing else matters but this moment. It is interesting how the lyrics start out with the line (as I hear it), “It’s all up to you now,” as the idea is that you have a decision to make. This decision may not be an easy one to make unless you stop thinking about everything else but the music and the present. Obviously, the lyrics really spoke to me as someone who has often not embraced this, at various points in my life and for various reasons. Now might be the right time to embrace this philosophy.
I feel like this is the one area that takes the song down some on the cocktail scale of excellence. It sounds a bit too polished. Some of the rawness seems to have been taken away. While that in no means makes it bad, it is a blown opportunity. A perfect example is the electro part. While in the beginning, I really like it and feel like it has its place but it is too loud during the second verse. It distracts from Simon’s vocals and the rest of the musicality there. Plus, it would have been more fitting for how I see the song flowing. By the end of the song, there is more of a beautiful reminder that all you need is now. The electro part comes back from time to time as does real life or the worry for the future but should be pushed aside for the seize the day mentality of happiness. It should not be such a strong presence after that first chorus. On a different note, I find the inclusion of the street noises at the end of the song to be interesting. Could these noises be saying that once you accept the current status, the real world becomes a background noise. I think it is a nice touch!
This song seems to have a theme running through it, to me. It represents how people have decisions to make about how they are going to live their lives. While those decisions might be difficult and abrupt, everything becomes beautiful once the present is embraced, once one’s core joy is embraced. I feel like this song could have been written as a reminder for Duranies to accept where the band is, accept the fact that the band is still around and still making beautiful music and accept that we are still fans, still Duranies. It is something that makes us happy. As a musical piece, I love that it feels like the Duran I know without being something we have already heard!
Rhonda’s take on All You Need Is Now
Musicality/Instrumentation: I have to say that it’s nice to be able to hear John again. I don’t think I’ve heard that funky bass in many years – I love that you can feel it and hear it, yet John isn’t looking to be the lead. It’s a real rhythm section again, and is a welcome change from their more recent albums. Roger provides a very clear and strong back beat – and when he hits that high hat I can almost see him twirling that stick! The rhythm is impossible to ignore during the verses, and it really does well to provide the backbone. The guitar is there, although on this particular song it does not play the lead role – that seems to go to Nick, and appropriately so. If you listen during the verses, the guitar plays a call/response game with Nick’s synths, and it’s a beautiful thing. One thing I’ve always enjoyed in Duran’s best music was the tug-of-war played between the guitar and synths, and it’s been sorely lacking in their recent attempts. The chorus is Duran Duran perfection in every way. Both anthemic and atmospheric in the way only Duran Duran can do it. That said, I feel it’s very electro in parts – dangerously close to annoyingly so. It’s amazing because I would have sworn after the first couple listens that the song was originally two completely different pieces of music. The verses are strangely similar to something I have heard on more recent albums (I hate to say it, but I could imagine it being on Red Carpet Massacre), and the chorus could be straight from 1983, give or take a few years in either direction.
Vocals: Who am I to critique Simon when he is at his best? His voice is strong, and while I know that he’s had the tendency as of late to sound strained and nasally, I don’t hear that in this song. I know that in the past, Simon had a way of reaching notes much lower than I would have expected of someone with his vocal range – almost whispering like Barry White (a slight exaggeration) into the microphone, but this song doesn’t require that, and so I don’t expect it. I have tried and failed to think of one thing that could have been done differently to improve the song from a vocal standpoint.
Lyrics: I originally heard snippets of this song when it was played on Behind the Music during the credits – and I felt that lyrically, the song was more reminiscent of Simon’s more recent work. His writing has been far more straightforward than the poetic, filmy imagery of his early Duran Duran days. That doesn’t mean to say that the writing is at all poor, because it is not. The chorus is VERY straightforward – it says what it means and means what it says, which we should embrace and appreciate. The writing is strong, and while yes, the fans from way back when might say he’s become a weaker lyricist over time, I would wholeheartedly disagree. It’s far more difficult to put yourself out there in black and white than it is in a series of gray that could mean one thing to you and something completely different to the next reader/listener. Does it lose the romance of previous work, though? For me, I’d have to say no. This song is written for the fans, it’s written for me, it’s written for you – and I think it’s even written for them. Who needs romantic flowery lyrics when you’ve got Simon telling you to sway in the mood? My favorite line? “Everybody’s gunning for the VIP section; but you’re better off running in another direction.” (how’d they know I felt that way?!?) This song was written about their fans, and about themselves. It’s a beautiful relationship.
Production Aspects: I hear what I hear, and on this song – it’s just a little overproduced, in particular during the chorus. Unfortunately with today’s music and production – to hear a song that isn’t a victim to overproduction is the rarity. The music is a victim to the technology, in my mind. There is so much we can do to play with the sound of an instrument and with the mix of a song – we do too much. The chorus sounds rather flat at times, as though it’s a giant brick wall of sound coming out you to hit you with force. The synths blend so much into the vocals that it can sound rather muddy, and not just because it’s an iTunes file. Sometimes too much is really too much. I will also say that as far as the mix goes, the electronic part that plays during the verses is way, WAY too loud. It competes with Simon’s lyrics, and that’s just wrong.
Overall Impression: Here is where it gets personal. When I first heard this song on Behind the Music, tears rolled down my face. I had wondered where Duran Duran…*my* Duran Duran…had been all of these years. Of course, I’d only heard the chorus, but it was as beautiful as anything they’d ever done. I dare say it was perfection. When I had the opportunity to hear the entire song, I stumbled back a bit. The verses didn’t blend well into the chorus and overall it felt very awkwardly done. I will admit that as time has gone on, I’ve gotten used to that – and I actually enjoy it now. The very fact that the song grows on me and changes for me over time signifies that it’s something very special. Does it lend itself to the days of Rio? Is that really even a fair question?? My answer is that it’s a Duran Duran song. There is nothing about this song that I wouldn’t attribute completely and solely to Duran Duran, and for me – that’s a victory, plain and simple. Will it get airplay? Will it be a hit? Who the hell cares?!? This is for THEM. For US. Enjoy it!!