New Religion — The Daily Duranie Review

As the summer starts winding down, it is time for us to return to our usual review every two weeks.  We are only to the b-side of the Rio album and have much to cover in order to review the entire catalog.  This week, we take a look at the song, New Religion.  Interestingly enough, when we did the daily questions about favorite songs, this one won as people’s favorite.  Now, we can look to see if it is worthy of the title.

Rhonda:

Musicality/Instrumentation: The opening to this song is incredibly unique as it begins with Nick’s keyboards, and at about 25 seconds in, it sounds like a spaceship landing, and then keys take more of a background role as they create more of an atmosphere for guitar and bass. Once again, John’s bass work is to be commended here as it becomes the glue to hold the entire song together. The song is especially unique as many times throughout the song the bass, solid drums and vocals seem to be the most noticeable parts of the mix. This song is an excellent example of each band member having an important role – and in this song, Nick’s synthesizers are fully responsible for providing that existential-type atmosphere that flows throughout the song to make it feel so “other-worldly”. This is a Duran song where I feel the guitar is not front and center, but is merely one of the team, although Andy certainly has his moments, especially in the bridge when he is playing off of John. It’s a good, signature moment. The final moments of the song work to create a near-frenzy as there seems to be a slight upsweep in tempo along with the various instrumentation tracks brought  completely together. The sound is intricate and layered, resulting in that recognizably lush Duran-sound.

Vocals: The vocals on this song are unique and truly groundbreaking – anyone who has said that Simon can’t rap obviously does not understand the meaning of rap, as he does much of that during this song, and in 1982 – this just was not done. Rap doesn’t just happen in hip-hop, people…and Simon takes the cue from Blondie on this one. His vocal range is lower on this song, which is at least somewhat reminiscent of his earlier work on the first album. His vocals have a tinge of darkness to them, which only adds to the atmosphere the music is trying to create. I really appreciate the way that the vocals sound as though there’s Simon out front, but also someone in his shadows singing from behind. It’s a good, yet subtle effect.

Lyrics: I’m sure I’m not the only one to admit that when I listen to this song, I have to decide if I’m going to listen to the rap part or I’m going to listen to the singing – because I can’t do both. This is one of those songs where I can say (rather guiltfully) that I have song along with the words for years without really considering what in the hell they mean. Go me. When I listen now, I still get the same images in my head that I always have – good vs. evil. The lyrics are pretty overwhelming because there is so much going on, and I find that even when I try to listen, I end up just focusing on the music instead. Maybe I’ve hit the motherlode of what I can listen and decipher at one time. In some ways, I feel as though the entire song and how I feel when listening is a pretty accurate description of how I feel about religion in general.  There is so much going on out there, so many voices and perhaps I’m not sure of what to really listen to or believe. Interesting.

Production: I have to applaud production here. There is so much going on with this song, it would have been extremely easy to overdo any particular facet. I think this is a song that would have been murdered by autotune and effect had it been made today, but instead the production leaves a raw quality in the mix – yet there’s still plenty of lush and gloss just with Nick’s synthesizers there on top of the song. I believe it would have been very easy to push the guitars to the back, but instead of leaving them way down in the mix, the song was written with a  “less is more” quality for guitar. No, there are no screaming wild riffs here – but quality over quantity. I like the slight echo, and I wish more songs were produced like this today.

Overall: New Religion has always been one of my favorites, and by far the most unique song off of Rio. I liked that it was different, and yes – I loved the rap. (Words that I don’t think I’ve uttered much since) That section made the song so different, and I liked the little bit of anger and darkness that prevailed. For me, the song is among the more groundbreaking and innovative songs the band has ever done, and I appreciate that in 1982, Simon was one of the few who braved rap. That alone makes the song worthy, never mind that I think there’s much to be said that you can honestly listen to this song 30 times in a row (as I have this morning…) and hear something different every time. It’s no wonder why this song is a fan favorite even today.

Cocktail Rating:  Five cocktails!


Amanda:

Musicality/Instrumentation: This is one of those songs that has an extremely unique and easy-to-recognize opening. Obviously, it is all Nick Rhodes and the wonderful organ like sounds coming from his keyboards. It definitely catches your attention but doesn’t last so long that one could get bored from it. Instead, of course, about 30 seconds in, there is an additional wave of sound as the rest of the instrumentation join in. Yet, even that wave of sound is something special. It doesn’t just quickly move from one part to the next but takes a few seconds, enough to add some touches to it. Once the other instruments join in, you can’t escape the relentless bass and guitars. This is not to say that Nick’s keyboards disappear as they don’t. Once again, the layering affect is clear. I like that as one part of the song ends, Roger’s there to mark it with his drumming before the song moves on to the next part.  While the vocals really take center stage during the chorus, the instrumentation enhances it and makes it feel bigger than life. Again, many of the signature elements of the early Duran sound is present with layers of instrumentation, having all instruments present with some standing out more at any given time and the ability for the music to really create a mood, a feeling. No where is this more noticeable than in the bridge about three and a half minutes into it. There, the bass and guitar are really strong, really take the spotlight with Nick in between and Roger bringing the song to the next part again. The tempo increases dramatically until it returns to normal with the final chorus. By the time the song is done, one could almost feel like they lived through an experience and not just a song.

Vocals:  Of course, this is one of those songs in which the vocals are very much front and center, especially that chorus when one cannot help but focus on the vocals over the instrumentation. Interestingly enough, this is a song with a long lead-in, which you wouldn’t think with a song that is so vocally focused (Is that a term? I think it should be.). Simon’s vocals through the verses is very smooth and I simply adore the lower range that he uses here, too. Yet, the real moment to shine is during the chorus because the layering of Simon’s vocals is so obvious here. On top of the two layers of vocals, both layers are significant and have real words as opposed to just a repeating line or some humming or something of that nature. The vocals, then, become overwhelming. The instrumentation falls completely into the background and the listener is left to wonder which layer to listen to. I’m willing to bet that most listeners vary between the two layers of vocals. I know that I do, even when I try to focus on one more than the other. It just happens. On top of that, Simon’s vocals feel passionate and intense, which again matches the music and works to create that inescapable mood. I would be remiss not to mention that Simon’s vocals here, at times, venture towards an almost rap like quality that simply wasn’t heard of much in 1982, if at all.  I do remember, as a kid, being weirded out because of that. It felt so different. Now, I see how ahead of the game they were with this song.

Lyrics:  In case the instrumentation and the vocals weren’t enough, the lyrics add another punch to this song. Again, I remember reading these lyrics as a kid and just being overwhelmed as there was SO much there. Truly, I have yet to figure out how everything in there fits together but still adore the picture painted of some sort of an evil crowd, following him at the same time he has his friends, which may not be the best of characters, somehow.  My point here is simple. The lyrics are complex and offer intrigue to any listener who wants to think. Yet, that chorus is catchy enough that a casual listener would get hooked, too.

Production:  This song truly was very innovative and the production just seemed to allowed it to happen. There wasn’t much concern that people wouldn’t understand the rap like quality with the vocals or that the synthesizers in the beginning of the song was too much. No, the creativity and spirit of the song was allowed to come out and shine. At the same time, there wasn’t too much there, either, as the band still was able to do what they do best. There was the fine line of layering and all instrumentation was present and accounted for. Simon’s vocals sounded exactly as they should.

Overall:  I did not like this song as a kid. I admit it. It was too different. I didn’t get any of it.  The vocals scared me in a way and the lyrics were way over my head. Because of those qualities, I never paid much attention to the instrumentation. I don’t remember when I was able to look beyond any fear and really listen to this song, but I remember the general feeling. It was like I was hearing the song for the first time and I couldn’t get enough. Every element of it impressed me, especially when listening to the song on headphones where every note, every subtle element could be heard and appreciated. I like that every listen could be a little different depending on which element you focused on. Truly, this is a song that really showcases what Duran is capable of.

Rating:  5 cocktails!


6 thoughts on “New Religion — The Daily Duranie Review”

  1. I was lucky enough to hear this song performed live just once – way back in 1987. It is one of my favorite songs, and it still stands out as one of my absolute favorite Duran concert song moments.

    (FTR – My other favorite concert song moment was finally hearing the Chauffeur performed at a show in 2011, for the first and only time I have ever heard that song performed live.)

    -Susan-

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