Dilate My Mind: Notorious

Is Duran Duran’s Notorious the band’s biggest sidestep of an album?

Admittedly, Notorious makes a pretty obvious target for this category. It came at a time of huge change for Duran, after all. They had taken a break at the top of their game as a five-piece, and come back as a threesome. Without the beat of Roger’s drums, and Andy’s rock guitar riffs, it has to have been the greatest change in their sound, right? You could claim that the remaining trios ‘discovery’ and use of a very American sound was the biggest departure they have made from their more Euro-centric dance roots.

On the other hand, there’s a strong case to be made that without Chic, there would never have been a Duran as we know them in the first place. Without the inspiration that they found in the funk and rhythm of Chic’s catalog, a quintessential part of the Duran sound, from the beginning, that deep drum and bass heartbeat, goes missing. 

You can hear “My Own Way” in “Notorious”, and “A Matter of Feeling” in “Mediterranea”. “Winter Marches On” and “My Antarctica” draw from the same well. Just to start. And introducing strong backing vocals may have felt new for Notorious, but it certainly isn’t a practice they have abandoned. 

With Nile Rogers coming on to produce the entire album, instead of the previous one-offs of remixes and singles, Notorious wasn’t an aberration, so much a fulfillment of a musical promise. And it’s one that the band has returned to again and again throughout their career.  – Laura Skarka

Gotta Have That Funk

“Duran have often been applauded for ‘not making the same album twice’ but we couldn’t have done so had we tried.” – John Taylor

If we take John at his word, there is no core group of albums with “the Duran Duran sound” from which to make a sidestep. I would disagree to a certain extent as the band has often shown a desire to bridge the sonic and ideological space between punk, glam and disco. It took the departures of Andy and Roger Taylor to finally bring this to fruition and Notorious remains the perfect blend of the various influences John and Nick built Duran Duran around.

Ground-zero for punk and disco was New York City in the 1970s but the scenes were on different paths until Blondie merged the Parallel Lines with songs such as “Heart of Glass” and “One Way or Another”. If there exists a template for the Duran Duran sound, this album seems as likely as any to be the best example of red-hot guitars and shimmering dance rhythms. With Notorious, Duran Duran finally had the musicians in the studio capable of taking that vision to a new level.

Much has been written about Nile Rodgers, and deservedly so, as his guidance and guitar work allowed them to capture the funk and soul of Chic in its purest sense but it is drummer Steve Ferrone (Average White Band) that drives the album. With his creative playing, John Taylor’s bass lines pop like never before and Rhodes’ synth work brings a moody elegance to the vibe. I’m reaching the word-limit on Dilate My Mind so I leave you with this graphic! – Jason Lent

Like Some New Romantic Looking For the DD Sound

What, exactly, is the “Duran” sound?  To answer this week’s “Dilate My Mind” challenge, one first has to answer that question.  Is it the darker debut album, in which you can still find remnants of the band’s punk influence?  Or maybe the more radio-friendly SATRT?  Is it the lush beauty of “Save a Prayer,” or the in-your-face harshness of “The Wild Boys”?  Can it be the latent funk found in “New Religion”?  Funk that was brought to the fore by Nile Rodgers in the remixed version of “The Reflex,” Duran’s most successful single on the holy trinity of its first three albums?  

The argument that Notorious represented the greatest departure from the “true” Duran sound relies on the false premises that Duran’s “sound” from ’78-’86 was homogeneous, and that somehow funk was absent from it.  Neither is true.  

Of course, another argument is that there have been far greater deviations elsewhere in the catalogue.  Liberty would seem to represent a greater departure than anything that came before; so too, one could argue that Medazzaland and some (not all, but some) of Red Carpet Massacre.  

No matter how you view it, though, Notorious is a logical extension of the funk that was always in Duran’s DNA and launched them to their greatest success with “The Reflex.”  You’d have to be buried in the sand to think otherwise!  – C.K. Shortell

Uncertain To the Core

I don’t think Notorious can be considered the biggest sidestep from the Duran Duran sound in the band’s history… because their music is so wide-ranging that I’m not really sure that there IS a ‘Duran Duran sound’!

Even if we put it into context by going back to 1986 (i.e. ignoring everything that came afterwards) and suggest that the album was a major sidestep due to Roger and Andy not playing on the record, I can’t agree that it differs in sound from its predecessors more than 7ATRT and Rio did from the first album.  The difference between the melancholy almost-post-punk of the first album and the colourful electropop of Rio is particularly notable.

If we do take the whole history into account… well, then, there are other albums that could be considered more prominent sidesteps than NotoriousLiberty featured some (glorious, IMO) leaps into a slightly harder rock sound, which had been forgotten about by the time of The Wedding AlbumRed Carpet Massacre had a contemporary hip-hop vibe that hasn’t ever been repeated.

Besides, while there is an undeniably unique funk sound to many tracks on Notorious, it still features songs that don’t share that sound – ‘A Matter Of Feeling’ and ‘Winter Marches On’ could have fitted into any of the ‘80s albums (except, perhaps, for the bounce-a-minute Rio).

Most importantly, though, I think Notorious is a very important and iconic part of the band’s history, and as such it’s also a huge contributor to their overall ‘sound’… if there is such a thing! – Dee Cooke

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