We are still trekking through Thank You, and this week we land on “Ball of Confusion”. Let’s dig right in!
“Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today)” was originally released by The Temptations in 1970. Since then, it has been covered by dozens of bands and artists, including Anthrax, Love and Rockets, Tina Turner, and others.
In full disclosure, my familiarity with this song began with the version done by Love and Rockets. Then there’s The Temptations, whose original is innovative, provocative, and incredibly definitive. Why anyone else – including Love and Rockets – ever decided to cover it, is beyond me.
To be fair, Duran Duran *does* reimagine the song. Their lyrics are different, as is the layout of the song. Even the vocals, sometimes done as a whisper in the background, are done different than the original. Musically, this song belongs to the bass. It plays down and dirty, and the effect is fantastic. It is one of the few Duran songs where the floor, or foundation of the sound, is low and bold. The drums, done by Anthony Resta, are another high point on Duran’s version.
The Temptations use a much different sort of melody for the song, although they too start out with bass. Filled with horns and sung by multiple people, it plays like a peaceful, purposeful, protest. Anthemic and full of purpose, it is easy to understand why the original is so definitive.
The main criticism with Duran Duran’s version lies in the intent of the song and how Duran Duran may have unintentionally lessened that impact. The Temptations wrote the song as almost a political protest anthem, describing all of the problems of the world. I think that a similar sense of purpose and direction is lost when it comes to Duran Duran’s cover. Don’t get me wrong, it is clear that Duran Duran had the best of intentions, but to change the song so radically may have done the original an injustice. Yet, if they’d played it the same, well, there would have been little point. The intent of the song had to be completely different, simply because The Temptations lived what they wrote. Duran Duran, conversely, are a group of white guys. I just don’t know that they could have found a better take on the original.
Technically, the song is solid, musically speaking. I love what they did with the arrangement and the effects. Simon’s vocals are strong, and play the edge of anger and outrage well. However, when one takes the time to listen to the lyrics, it is very difficult to see how Duran Duran could have felt they had anything to add to the narrative, although I suppose one could argue that the lyrics were changed in order to reflect universal problems for the world. I’m just not sure that changing the song really did justice to the original.
This is an interesting track to review. Part of me wants to review it as if it was a new song and not a cover as I think I would review it differently, if that were the case. Looking at it as if it was a Duran Duran song, I would comment about how much I like the musicality of the song. It grabs you right away with that relentless bass and drums. It forces you to listen, to pay attention. Then, the vocals keep your keep it going especially as they change from being regularly sung to whispers and everything in between. The vocals effects are cool, for sure. I probably would even give them props for tackling current issues and being brave enough to go there. I would want to listen closely to hear each and every issue mentioned and clap at the mentioning of gun control and the acknowledgement of racism.
Then, I listen to the original and I’m less excited. It isn’t that the quality of the Duran version goes down. It is just that I have to judge covers differently than an original. With a cover, I have to judge if it kept the flavor and the feel of the original. Did it add to it or take some quality away? Knowing that original was recorded in 1970 by the Temptations puts a totally different spin on it. Let’s just put it out there. They were an African-American band from Detroit in the 1960s/1970s. Clearly, the song, the lyrics was about the experience that so many had at that time here in the United States. While I can understand Duran’s appreciation for the song, much like their appreciation of Public Enemy, I have to wonder if they could really convey the spirit of the song as much as they might want to. Could Duran Duran really relate, for example, to the white flight that is mentioned in the very beginning of the song? I don’t think and makes me feel awkward, at best. After all, their experiences as British white guys were very different than urban black men’s of the 1970s.
On top of that, there are changes that Rhonda mentioned above between Duran’s version and the original. I can definitely live with some of the musical changes and the desire to make it more modern. What I am surprised by, though, is that the lyrics were changed. Why? I don’t get it. For example, the Duran version does not mention taxes in the second verse. They didn’t like that part? They didn’t think it fit with the rest of the song? Wasn’t edgy enough? No clue. I don’t have good answers but it does make me wonder. It, also, leaves me feeling uncomfortable, at best, which is too bad because the song itself has a lot to offer. Yet, I have to judge it based on its cover status. I am not sure that Duran should have covered this song, of all Temptations’ songs. Maybe they should have chosen a different one? Then, they made changes to the lyrics. It just makes me cringe in discomfort.