Happy Friday everyone – today we’re continuing with our reviews, and this day brings us the opportunity to revisit and review Is There Something I Should Know. For those who are unaware, the original 1981 release of this album did not contain ITSISK, but instead To the Shore (we’ll get to that review, I promise!). The initial 1981 release did not do well here in America and went largely unnoticed. The New Romantic movement received very little attention from mainstream radio or media, and British bands just did not get airplay. It wasn’t until after Rio was released in 1982 and began to climb the charts in earnest that the band went into the studio in December of 1982 and recorded ITSISK (with Ian Little) initially as a stand-alone single. The song was added to the 1983 re-release of Duran Duran’s first self-titled album, and ITSISK climbed to #4 on the US charts. To many Americans – Rio was the first Duran Duran album, and it was only in time that a fan became aware that the initial pressing of the album was in 1981 and contained To the Shore. In fact, the reason Amanda and I chose to do this review first (rather than To the Shore) is simply because for both of us, this is what we knew to be “the first album”.
Musicality/Instrumentation: So here’s the real deal with this song: it’s my very favorite Duran Duran song ever…and I mean EVER. Other favorites come and go, but this one is forever. (if that’s not cornball – I just don’t know!) If you’re looking for an unbiased review, I am honestly going to say right here, right now, that you’re probably not going to find it from me. That said, please join me in my moment of happiness while I listen to this song over and over again this morning. One thing I will say about this song is that while it’s on their very first album (the US version – which is the version that both Amanda and I grew up with and knew to be “the first album, which is why we’re reviewing it today), it’s extremely evident that the songwriting had evolved. I still think there’s balance – but the melodies aren’t quite as pure. I can still pick out each individual instrument, but there’s something different about this song over the others on this album that I’m having difficulty naming. If I push myself to characterize it, I’d say that it just sounds more complicated. More layering? More tracks of individual instruments?? I think that for this first album, this is the one song that Nick’s synths do seem to “take over” in parts, specifically the chorus. Signs of the times to come?? What is it about Andy’s guitar riff that makes me smile so widely, or the fact that John’s bass just works beautifully with Roger’s drums? This band still knew how to work together to create a complete sensory experience.
Lyrics: Are you kidding me? My entire adolescence was spent trying to figure this song out!
All I really know is that I am no easier than a nuclear war (this is probably true). I think there have always been a few lines of this song that amused the heck out of me “I know you’re watching me every minute of the day, yeah.” (humble much there Simon?) I’ve always felt that this song was saying everything that I felt about boys (back in the day) and men in general (now). Granted I’m sure Simon was probably not speaking of men when he wrote the lyrics, but that’s how they always served as a sort of anthem for my life. I think all of us run across people that we just don’t really get, and this song applies to all. Sometimes I even think it applies to various friendships I’ve had over the years.
I just want to know who does NOT mimic the video during the “Don’t say you’re easy on me, ‘cuz you’re about as easy as a nuclear war?” line? I literally have to FORCE myself not to do it – especially when I’m seeing them live. (but I’ve been known to do it at random in the car, or even in the grocery store if I hear it while I’m shopping – which embarrasses the kids! Bonus!!) I just love this song. So much so that Amanda had her mom make a postcard sized art quilt of her representation of this song. I need to take a picture and post it – it’s among my most prized possessions. Song lyrics=perfection for me on this one.
Vocals: Stacking harmonies. I really feel that this was the first song where we really started hearing the stacked harmonies. Yes, I know other songs on this album had similar effects, but when I listen to this song, the harmonies are much brighter, much stronger – it’s a totally different effect than on say, Anyone Out There. The entire chorus is stacked higher than a two-story building, and it has that “smack you in the face” type feel to it. Not a bad thing, just completely different than the rest of the album. I would go a step farther and say that when the general public thinks of Duran Duran or even Simon LeBon specifically – it’s these types of vocals that comes to mind. This is Simon’s signature style that has now come to signify what is Duran Duran. Is it my favorite vocal style that he’s had over the years? Oddly, no. It’s true. I do love this song, but I actually prefer Simon’s natural voice – the slightly darker tonality that we find on earlier recordings.
Production: This is the first Duran Duran song where I can honestly say that production started to out do itself. I don’t think I’ve ever forced myself to sit down and really listen to the differences in production style – especially between songs on the same album. When you listen to Planet Earth, Careless Memories or even Anyone Out There and then listen to this song – it’s is VERY apparent that this song was recorded later. The production is slick, fancy and lacquered to a super shiny finish. I don’t know if I would say that the production was more sophisticated, but I would definitely say there are far more special effects. This song is lush where their other songs on this album are balanced and far more “pure”. I have to say it gives me a much different opinion of the song overall. (don’t worry – I still love it, but I see it much differently now!) It’s very clear this song was recorded with the United States listening audience and radio stations in mind – they were desperately trying to break this market, and this song was one good way in. The way this song is produced reminds me far more of the production of Rio or Hungry Like the Wolf rather than Planet Earth, that is for sure.
Overall: It’s funny how you can view a song as perfection for so many years, but when you’re forced to sit down, listen and judge it against history – you’re still able to see it’s flaws. I embrace the flaws, but they are still there. I can’t apologize for loving the way the song was recorded even though I know the production is a bit overdone. (I might even suggest that this song is a perfect example of how Americans love excess ANYTHING.) The truth is that I’ve heard the song this way for so many years I’m not sure how it would sound with anything but the lush production. For me, this song is quintessential Duran Duran. It signifies complete joy for me, and it’s very difficult to separate that feeling from the technical merits of the song. That said, the answer for me lies simply in the fact that while yes – there are definite signs of overproduction making it’s nasty way into the studio, the song accomplishes everything it set out to do. I don’t know that I can say the song doesn’t sound dated at all – I do think the recorded version is very easily heard as being from the 80’s (but the live version kicks ass), but I think for the time of its recording, it was very appropriately finished. I still love it even if I can’t call it perfect.
Cocktail Rating: 4 cocktails!!
Musicality/Instrumentation: This song is so vastly different from the last song we reviewed, which was Careless Memories. They might be next to each other on an album due to the 1983 release of the debut album but they are far apart in how they sound. Careless Memories went out of its way to showcase individual instruments while this song seems to push the blending of the instruments. Now, of course, all of the instruments are present and accounted for but it takes a much more serious listen to separate them and appreciate them. On top of that, this song feels so light in comparison to the darkness of CM, including the instrumentation. Even during the brief interlude that features the harmonica, the song still feels hopeful and not so serious. Perhaps, this is created due to the emphasis on the vocals. In Careless Memories, the listener couldn’t hide from the the instruments and in this song, the listener can’t hide from the vocals. The instrumentation works to provide the background to these vocals.
Lyrics: This is the first song where the lyrics appear to be rather straight forward, even if they contain some silly lines about nuclear war. Goodness, even that line can be easily explained. Clearly, the song is about some person trying to figure out what s/he has to do to get this other person’s attention and that this other person isn’t making it easy. Can’t we all relate to this?! I know that I can at various times in my life!! At the same time, the lyrics are extremely catchy and grab one’s attention right away as the song starts with that ever recognizable “please please tell me now”. This is one of the first songs that I really began to sing along to. Each word seemed extremely clear so I knew exactly what I was singing as a kid!
Vocals: To me, the focus of this song is definitely the vocals. There is no musical introduction before the very first line. Again, comparing it to the rest of the first album, Simon’s vocals are very different. He no longer seems to be singing in a dark, low way that he did on songs like Anyone Out There. On top of the vocal change, now there is the ever present harmonies. These harmonies definitely create the feeling, the mood that this is one dude singing this song but many people, a group. This works for this song because the topic is so universal that one can easily understand how many, many, many people would feel the same way as the singer. Clearly, the era of simply having Simon sing was over.
Production: Like with every other element on this song, one can tell that the production on this song was very different from the rest of the album. To me, it feels like this was the result of a couple of years of real learning about writing and recording songs and production. They were no longer going on instinct alone. Everyone involved put that knowledge together to create what on the surface seems like a very simple song but underneath that simpleness is a much more complicated process. As soon as Simon added harmonies, it would have been more complicated than the previous songs. In many ways, this newly learned knowledge was helpful, I’m sure. I can’t help but to wonder if some of this knowledge didn’t hurt them in the long run. Would the band overthink the writing and recording process? Would they try to make songs more complicated than they needed to be? Were they taking away both the flaws but also the beauty in the purity? If you place this song in Duran context, the next material to be released after this was Seven and the Ragged Tiger, which only works to make my questions here more interesting.
Overall: In many ways, I view this song as the perfect pop song. It is light with solid vocals and lyrics that make you want to sing. It gave the listener the sense that this was a group of people who had some issues but they were happy people without much real concern. It is feel good music, to me. Every time I hear this song mentioned in Duran documentaries, I am reminded that the song debuted at number one in the UK, which was a feat that hadn’t been accomplished much except for people like the Beatles. To me, this always felt fitting as it seemed pretty clear that the Beatles were a HUGE influence on this one. This is a good thing, especially since the song really did make it fun to listen to. That said, I do wonder if they took some steps here with either their writing, recording or production that changed Duran. They could no longer be that raw, dark sound that they had with the rest of the first album.
Cocktail Rating: 4 cocktails!!