This week, we are finishing up the Liberty album with “Downtown”. The song is described as an uptempo rock song. The tune was written by Duran Duran, and also produced by the band, alongside Chris Kimsey. A demo version of “Downtown” is available on the unofficial album titled, “Didn’t Anybody Tell You?” Let’s take a listen!
Meant to be a little fun, and even a bit on the campy side, “Downtown” isn’t quite the “uptempo” rock song I’d imagine. The tempo is fairly slow and deliberate. It gives the song a sort of dirty, sexy rhythm, which seems to be set far more by a synthesizer than it does the rhythm section. Unfortunately, doing so seems to bury the bass and drums so far down in the mix it should be illegal. The song is top-end heavy, filled to the gills with effects that do little more than make the song sound incredibly messy. There is an overall, background hiss that is on my last nerve. When that hiss combines with a gritty, gratuitous, effect-driven, guitar solo, there’s just no arguing that the song was completely overproduced. I wonder if a back-to-basics version of this song would have been more impactful.
Lyrically, the song seems like a description of a bawdy, seedy, pre-1990 Times Square in New York City. There’s just no emotion in the words. Maybe there doesn’t need to be, but too much of this album just sounds half-hearted. There are gems here and there, and I don’t want to discount those. Overall, however, Liberty listens like an album written and recorded by a band who didn’t know who they were, or how to BE. I struggle buying whatever it is that the band was peddling, which was never the case with previous albums (sans perhaps Thank You). So much of “Downtown” feels overdone. I am not entirely certain that the personnel – or the lineup – ever really jelled, or solidified. I’m writing this firmly in hindsight, and I’m afforded the opportunity to know where the band went from here. Even so, this song, along with several others on this album, were written by a band insisting they weren’t a teenie-bopper band from 1980-something. The identity and relevance crisis were real, and took far longer to work through than just an album or two.
Well, the Liberty album ends on quite a note. It is interesting to me when I think about how this album ends versus so many of their others. A lot of them do end on a more artistic, less conventional note. I’m thinking here about the first album, Paper Gods, etc. Perhaps, this is what they were going with on this song. Every time I listen to this song I have to wonder. Are they under water? Is all of the instrumentation drunk? What is going on? Why is there so many effects? What is the actual musicality? I have no clue because I struggle to hear anything besides a lot of metallic sounding guitar and lots and lots and lots of extra sounds. Is it different than the Duran of the past? Absolutely. It is not a kinder or gentler Duran. It is not the happy pop Duran. I’m not sure that I would even call it artistic, though. I’m okay with having some effects that might be unpleasant to the ear (thinking of the ending of The Universe Alone) but the whole song here makes me cringe in discomfort. Plus, like previous tracks, I am not sure why in the heck this song has to last as long as it does. It sounds like it is going to end at 3 minutes 45 seconds in only to come right back. Why? I don’t get it. There is nothing of note in the last minute plus. Nothing.
If the musicality wasn’t enough, I’m not sure about Simon’s vocals or the lyrics. In the first verse, like the music, there is a feeling that maybe Simon is underwater or drunk or something. For some reason, the second verse feels better to me. Is it because it is really different or because I’m used to it? No clue. Never once do I think that the vocals are awesome, though. They, like everything else, feel unnatural. The effects kill the potential quality here. Then, there are the lyrics. Much like the music, the lyrics could have ended earlier. What was the point of the chorus over and over again at the end? I don’t get it. Lyrically, there is a picture painted in which downtown does not seem fun, exciting or appealing. I guess in that sense the lyrics fit with the music but none of it really works for me.
I know that Liberty often gets a bad rep around the Duran fan community and some of that is simply unfair as there are songs that are great and worthy. Then, there are songs like this one that feels either that they are trying too hard or are trying to show themselves to be grown up and different from that early 80s pop. No matter the reason it just does not work for me and unfortunately ends the album on much more of a sour note than the album is worth.