Here we are. We have indeed arrived at the time to review Hothead. Produced by Chris Kimsey, featuring spoken word by none other than Simon Le Bon, there isn’t much written about Hothead. The song does not seem to be a fan favorite, so let’s get to the bottom of it!
The first thing I notice is the guitar, which quite frankly for a Duran Duran song, isn’t always the norm. Not buried too deeply in the mix, not an esoteric enigma, vaguely floating up in the stratosphere – for this track, the guitar helps ground the track like a root in the soil. The synthesizer takes on it’s old role, creating atmosphere and answering the guitar in the chorus.
The thing is, the music is kind of catchy. I like the slight grit to the guitar posed against the silky texture of keyboards. The semi-haunted house feeling of the descending synthesizer chords during each verse help to create interest, and it lends a bit more meaning to the point of the song. I picture wandering down into the proverbial rabbit hole, or falling into a pit while in a forest! This is the first DD album, to my knowledge, where the band samples from newscasts and television, incorporating those bytes into the background of the sound. I like that they did that, because those samplings give the song context. It isn’t difficult as a listener to understand the time frame in question, or why the song was written. Given that triumph, I don’t hear much bass though, which is strange – I think it’s in there, but during this period of time I think bass was more “felt” than heard. The band seemed to have backed off from the more complicated bass lines of Rio days and before. The drums are solid, no with no-nonsense, which probably is appropriate given the texture and point of the song.
So, this is where things start to go sideways. The very first voice I recognize is that of Former President George Bush (the first one). That can’t be a good omen, can it? You hear news report snippets, which are sampled and as I said before – give context to time and setting of the song, and then Simon begins. Not quite spoken word, not quite singing…but then he does sing the chorus, doesn’t he? That’s followed by a stop gap, more than a little cringy, yet oddly appropriate, “hothead” sung in high-soprano by backing vocalists. I can’t decide if the cringe is meant due to the meaning of the song, or if that’s just *my* take on it. Before I can decide for sure while writing, I hear Simon’s rap section.
This may not be a popular opinion, but the words “Simon” and “rap” really don’t belong in the same sentence. It is very difficult to get past the sing-song aspect and take it seriously. Some artists rap well, and some just don’t. It’s my (possibly unpopular) opinion that Simon does not.
I’ll admit something right here and now: I’ve never read the lyrics to this song before. Lyrically, the song is strong, and arguably, more “political” than Paper Gods. The words were timely then, timely now, well-written, and (still) have a great message. They’re not dated, and they’re definitely not vague. He wasn’t wrong that governments use media and propaganda to change the mind of the public, and that whatever they say today might totally change tomorrow depending upon whatever view they wish to spread at the time. There is absolutely a message warning us to wary of those with the loudest microphones. I can’t argue with any of that. It isn’t the words that are the biggest problem.
While I can’t say it is a favorite song, there are a couple of things I liked. The guitar line is great, and I love the call and answer with synthesizer. I do give credit for innovation. The sampling of the news bytes was something that we may take for granted in 2020, but in 1990 was still fairly new. Overall, the music is pretty good. The lyrics themselves are solid, although I know they’re not the poetic ramblings that fans enjoyed in earlier albums. The real problem, at least for me, are the vocals and their delivery. I’m not opposed to rap or spoken word – but the sing-song delivery that seems to accompany the way Simon raps does the song an enormous amount of injustice. It cheapens the message and makes it out to be far more of a game or joke than I think was intended. I feel like the song started off to be a great idea, but during recording, it went ass-over-teakettle.
This song definitely starts out in a non-typical Duran way with extremely obvious guitars. While I cannot say that I’m the biggest guitar fan, I think the jarring nature of the intro guitars is fitting with the theme of the song. You cannot talk about politics like this with a pretty synthesize sound, for example. Speaking of synthesizer, I really like the keyboards that pop up more when the guitars are pausing. The drums are solid with nothing too crazy going on. I don’t hear a lot of bass, though, which is a bummer. One thing that I notice about the musicality of this song is how the instrumentation is strong until the vocals and soundbytes begin then it almost feels as if the music takes a backseat.
I’m not even sure where to start about the vocals. I guess I will start with the soundbytes of news headlines. I don’t mind them. In fact, part of me finds it fascinating what they chose and makes me wonder why those. To me, they fit with the theme of the song. Then, there is Simon’s vocals. At first, they aren’t terrible. I don’t mind them. Then, the first chorus happens. What the heck is that all about? Why the shouting like of “hothead”?! Why have a female vocal singing “hothead” for far too long? What is the point?! I don’t get it. Then, Simon’s vocals take a noticeable change for the final verse. It is more spoken word but not really. I don’t get that either. The vocals just make the song feel disjointed, lacking cohesion. It feels like they couldn’t decide exactly what they were going for so they did a bunch of stuff. It doesn’t work.
I have to admit that I find these lyrics pretty interesting but then again I spend a lot of my life involved in the political sphere. One thing that I find most interesting is how the overall message about media, politics, propaganda, etc and so forth is not dated at all. These issues are still relevant. In fact, they might be more relevant now in 2020 than in 1990 especially with the rise of social media, fake accounts, interference from other countries, etc. I look at other lyrics that might fit in the same category and feel like some of them feel more dated than this. The biggest example is Too Much Information. It definitely feels like the focus is on the Gulf War of the 1990s. Again, I give a little shoutout to the soundbytes as I found them to be interesting, too.
This song is definitely not a fan favorite and I totally get why. While there are elements that are interesting like the lyrics and much of the instrumentation, the vocals really detract from the rest especially since they are so front and center during the majority of the song. I do appreciate the fact that the band decided to do something political in nature but because of the vocals, specifically, I think it turned a lot of listeners off. They did not get the message or did not or could not think about what the lyrics might mean. That said, I do give credit for even mixing things up, musically, by having the guitar start it out and in such a dramatic way. I have to just wonder that if they had tweaked things a bit if the final result would have been significantly better.