It is hard to imagine but we are finally ready to review Duran Duran’s 4th studio album. At this point, we have completed their first (self-titled) album, Rio, Seven and the Ragged Tiger and their most recent album, All You Need Is Now. We begin this week with the title track and the first single from the 1986 album, Notorious. This album, of course, is the first one after Andy and Roger had left and was produced by the funk master himself, Nile Rodgers.
Musicality/Instrumentation: There is no mistaking that this song is pure funk. From the moment you hear Nick’s syncopated keyboards, the tone is set. This is not going to be another Save a Prayer or even another Union of the Snake. Notorious seems to stand on firm musical ground all it’s own. The sound is a definite departure from previous work – going far more towards the funk sounds of Chic than the punk infused notes of DD’s first album. Even so, the recognizable guitar and bass interplaying among the synthesizers lets you know that yes, this is a grown-up Duran Duran. There are definite hints towards The Reflex, which is not surprising given that Nile produced that song as well. The musicality is more complex, but not because John plays more notes, or because there are difficult guitar riffs – it’s the arrangement of the music that is mature, all the while adding horns and subtle percussion to drive the point home.
Vocals: I love the vocals on this song. The stacked harmonies work to project at the right moments during the chorus, and let’s face it – they work well live, too. The smartest thing they did with this song was begin it with Simon’s “No, No, Notorious!” If there ever was a hook…this is it. The rest of the vocals are clean and clear, and with the rest of the song being slightly more complex, I appreciate that Simon’s vocals are allowed to stand on their own without a ton of effect, which in and of itself creates some great texture.
Lyrics: Truthfully, I never quite understood the lyrics until much, much later. I don’t know that I gave proper thought to media and how it might affect Duran Duran, but I’m not entirely sure that this song is all that representative of that frustration – particularly because the lyrics say they don’t even “read about it, it burns the skin from my eyes” – as much as it might be representative of the band’s frustration with one another, keeping in mind that this is directly after Andy and Roger left the band. All in all, the lyrics were most definitely written during a time of great change within the band, and I think this song has a very interesting sort of way of addressing it all. As dance-beat and funk-based as it is – known for being a song to get us up and dance, in an entirely “Duran Duran” sort of way, the song also doubles as a bit of a negative commentary on the downside of fame. I love that this band creates songs like that. On one hand we’re dancing and partying, but on another, we’re dancing to their frustration. Positive coming from negative, really.
Overall: I remember the very first time I ever heard this song on the radio. To be completely honest I was unaware they had been working on an album, and out of nowhere (so it seemed) I heard the opening “No, no, notorious” and immediately knew who it was. I was in the car with my parents and we’d just pulled into a parking spot – I screamed with joy (my dad was not impressed), and insisted they keep the car running so I could hear the entire song. (which did not go over well with my parents) My point in telling this story is that for all the changes that took place between this song and say, New Moon on Monday…there was no mistaking Duran Duran, and yes – much of that was due to Simon’s voice, but even if you listen to the instrumentation of the band, or the stacked harmonies alone – you know it’s Duran Duran. I know that most people, including the band, talk about this song being the one to get people to dance. I wouldn’t disagree. I can certainly hear Nile’s signature production throughout, but I most applaud the fact that as big of a personality that Nile Rodgers has ever been – he allowed Duran Duran to continue to sound like Duran Duran, even with his signature touches. This is the difference between Nile Rodgers and many, many other notable producers out there that have allowed their ego to outstretch their musical expertise. Oddly, Notorious has never been a favorite of mine, despite the positives mentioned here. The song never hit home with me in the way that others did, and it’s a song that, if they left out of a set list, I probably would not notice.
Cocktail Rating: 3.5 cocktails!
Musicality/Instrumentation: This song is one of those songs that we hear so much that it is hard to really stop and listen, in a critical way. I want to just tell you what I think of the song without any real analysis on the instrumentation. That’s isn’t fair so I did what I always do–play the song and really stop and listen. Ignoring the “no no no” and startled sigh, the first instrumentation that catches my attention is Nick’s keyboards. While I don’t necessarily think “Nick” when I think of this song, there are definite moments when he is featured prominently, in the beginning and towards the end. That isn’t to say that he isn’t there during the rest of the song but those are the moments when he is in the spotlight. Then, of course, John’s funky bass comes in along with the guitar. Obviously, these instruments and notes are designed to make you want to move, to dance and that is before the chorus begins! The chorus, like all good ones, increases the tempo and then glides back to the verse. At times, guitar is really present. At other times, the keyboards are more noticeable. Drums are present, too, but in more of a subtle way. Towards the middle of the song, the bridge, horns are present. I have a love/hate relationship with horns. Sometimes, I love any presence from a more classical instrument. For example, who doesn’t love the saxophone in Tiger Tiger? Yet, there are others, including some on this album that I hate. In this case, the horns fit and aren’t overpowering. In general, they did manage to create a dance-y, funky song throughout.
Vocals: What about this song that sticks out, vocally? Simple. It is the beginning with the “no-no-notorious” that is also featured in the chorus. Of course, in the beginning, it is more noticeable as it is before the majority of the instrumentation has kicked in. This “no-no-notorious” sounds full, lush as it has the effect of sounding like many Simons. To me, this reminds me of the “flex-flex-flex” in the Reflex. Not surprisingly, Nile Rodgers had a hand in both. After this part, the basic verses and chorus have a solid performance from Simon. It is at a good range for him and he certainly sounds smooth and easy. Unlike a lot of earlier Duran, there aren’t a lot of noticeable layering to the vocals, for the most part. The only time is when the “no-no-notorious” shows up later in the song. Overall, though, it seems that the instrumentation and lyrics are to tell the story. I don’t mind the clean vocals that this song presents and does seem fresh after Seven and the Ragged Tiger.
Lyrics: This is one of those songs that is completely obvious about what it is about. It is about music critics, the press, the media and how that machine was not kind to Duran. It won’t be the last time they reference their frustration with the media, either. While I have to admit that I am drawn more to Simon’s lyrics that are poetic or emotional or make me think, I get why, in 1986, they might have needed to write these lyrics, including the line about the “flaky bandit” in reference to Andy Taylor. In general, the lyrics don’t do much for me, despite liking a number of lines, including the one about “who says that’s part of our lives”, which always makes me think of fandom. At the same token, they don’t bother me either. They are fine.
Overall: In general, this song is an enjoyable one. It does make people want to dance and have fun despite its less than happy lyrics. It won’t move you to think or feel some deep emotion. It does what it was supposed to do. It was supposed to be a funky song in which the listeners will want to dance while Duran expresses some frustration. Nile’s touch is obvious in the production with elements like the “no no notorious” part as well as the funk. All of that said, I do think that this song live might be needing a break to keep it fresh and exciting for the fans.
Cocktail Rating: 3 cocktails!