It is amazing how quickly life can take a turn. In 24-hours, I went from feeling happy and content to worried and insecure. The charter school where my youngest attends suddenly closed down. There is much more to the story – as there always is – but the bottom line is that we had to say goodbye this morning. It was emotional, and I still feel pretty raw.
I worked there for the past two years, and quit at the end of May in order to move….which hasn’t happened quite yet. It was very hard watching my colleagues and friends be treated as though they were criminals by the executive administration. Even more difficult was watching the kids faces as they looked anxiously to their parents this morning while being told by someone they had never met that they couldn’t go into the center. I was on a short list of people not allowed in the learning center at all, for any reason – which makes me laugh. I don’t even think I’m on Duran Duran’s short list for that kind of thing yet!
Those of us who worked there gave it our all. Blood, sweat and even tears went into each school year, and I am very proud of the work I did there. To this day, I can’t sneak into the learning center without small (and smallish) children running to give me hugs and tell me they miss me, which I cherish. I miss being a part of their world each week. Sometimes though, regardless of how much heart, joy, love and affection someone puts into something, it just doesn’t work out. Sometimes things fall apart, no matter how much we work at them to succeed.
This is just one reason why I am thrilled to think about the 30th Anniversary of Big Thing today. Many fans talk consider the front side as the real genius of the album, but I believe the real gems are on the back!
The trifecta of “Palomino”, “Land”, and “The Edge of America” continue to rock my world to this day. Any one of the three could be entered into direct evidence for why Duran Duran should be in the Hall of Fame. Combined, they become the cornerstone of why I, along with so many others, are fans of this band. Heartfelt, personal, poignant, ground breaking are all words I would use to describe the project. Big Thing may be one of Duran Duran’s most underrated albums, but it is also among their best. Coincidence?
Sometimes, no matter how much heart and soul you put into something – the work goes unsung by the masses. Those losses are often the hardest to overcome, but they’re also teachable moments.
I’m hoping the same for my family in the coming weeks.
I was busy waxing nostalgic over past fan conventions yesterday, so I didn’t get to write about Big Thing. The album was released 29 years ago yesterday, which is impossible.
I’m pretty sure Big Thing was the first Duran Duran album I bought on cassette. I slightly cringe as I remember buying and storing it in the creaky, fabric-covered, plastic case I kept on the floor of the front seat in my Suzuki Samurai. I can still remember the sandy feeling the fabric of the suitcase had because I would drive with the top to the Samurai removed for most of the year. The nearly threadbare carpet on the floor of the car caught sand and whatever other grit was blowing through the air as I’d speed along the freeways of southern California. The case and tape, which I still have somewhere in this house, is pretty scratched up. I haven’t tried to play the tape in years, probably not since I traded in the Samurai. For quite a while, I didn’t have Big Thing on any other playable media in the house, and it wasn’t until I bought the MP3 that I had the chance to listen to the album in its entirety. Not that long ago, I added the vinyl of the album to my collection, along with the remastered CD, so I can fully appreciate its place in history.
When I first listened to Big Thing back in 1988, the album sounded like it had multiple personality disorder. I loved the song “Big Thing” even though I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what it was about. I liked the difference of the heavy beat to begin the album, but also appreciated the stacked harmonies that made it sound like a Duran Duran song. “I Don’t Want Your Love” was the song I would sing at the top of my lungs while driving back and forth from Cal State Fullerton during my freshman year. Let’s just say it healed many a wound during that time. It was a tumultuous time for me as I adjusted to college and dorm living. I wanted and needed recognizable Duran Duran – something that I never felt like I got from Notorious – and at least the first two songs off of Big Thing felt like they were in the right direction. But from there, the album changed direction, with the club-beat heavy “All She Wants Is”. At the time, the song felt out-of-place, even though it was (and remains) a hit in the ears of many Duranies. But then again, the album completely changes pace completely, with beautifully simple ballads like “Too Late Marlene”, “Do You Believe in Shame”, “Land” and “Palomino”. These are what a friend once characterized as Duran’s watershed moments. Never to be dull, a song like “Drug” was thrown in the mix to throw listeners completely off-kilter, the sudden change always unnerved me. Ending with “Edge of America”, flowing into “Lakeshore Driving”, Duran’s answer to jam-session recording carries out the uncomfortable pacing of the album as the tape abruptly ran out as I would begin to settle into a daydream.
I never could find fault with any one song on the album, although I certainly have my preferences, but as a whole, I never cared for the constant change in direction or personality. Did the band want to go for a club sound? Why was the back half mainly ballad? I can remember not loving the ballads back in the late 80s, as I was more of a guitar-driven hard-rock kind of gal, but they’ve grown on me in years since, as has the entire album.
Big Thing is one of those Duran albums that, for the longest time, I didn’t really count among my favorites. It has grown to be one that I consistently play. I know why Duran Duran looks to “Ordinary World” as the ballad to play live, but I believe that gems like “Palomino” and “Land” have been completely overlooked in the process. There is really no other song I would rather crank up to “10” in my car than “Edge of America”, and I can zone out to “Lakeshore Driving” pretty much anywhere. “Big Thing” is a great song to wake me up, and when I’m feeling melancholy, I tune in to “Do You Believe in Shame”. What once felt like a personality disorder now feels a lot more like the emotional roller coaster of any week in my life.
Big Thing has not only aged well, the rough transitions have mellowed out, and it plays fantastic at the ripe age of 29. Once again, Duran Duran proves they write to withstand the course of time. Happy Birthday, Big Thing!
We continue our attempts to review every single song in Duran Duran’s catalog with the song “Land” from Big Thing this week. There is surprisingly little information out there about “Land”, other than no demos seem to exist (at least not that anyone outside of the band has gotten their hands on!), which may indicate that it was one of the final songs written for the album.
Personally, I think this is one of the prettiest songs Duran Duran has ever written – so there’s my bias right off the bat! The song opens with what might either be a muted guitar or keyboard, and background vocals, which is very unusual and immediately draws the listener in. The one thing I really love about the music for this song is that even though there is plenty of music to “fill” the space, it also feels simple, clean, and unforced. Yet, there is a lot going on in the song. There is both acoustic and electric guitar, synthesizer, bass, drums, and even what I think is soprano sax going on in the background along with flute! I really love that the guitar solo is in the background tends to blend even though you can hear it soar – it gives a filmy texture to the music that really works for the song and doesn’t detract. Duran Duran achieved something very special with this song because what could have ended up feeling very overdone and incredibly busy still has an “easy” but lush feel, and communicated exactly the right mood. I also enjoy those open, quiet spaces that just set the song off right.
I really like that the song opens with the background vocals – it is an usual way to open, and it draws my attention and alerts me to pay attention! Simon’s voice sounds relaxed and clear with a beautiful roundness that I miss when he sings higher in his range. In this song, the vocals continue to build from those first moments into a soaring chorus, and then immediately come right back down to about where they began. Another effect I like is that if you listen closely to the second verse – you can hear a background track of Simon actually whispering the lyrics, which is ultra-cool and makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
There’s no arguing that these are some beautiful lyrics. When I listen to the song, it reminds me of the sailing that Simon enjoys – and perhaps it’s about his leaving his family behind. He loves to sail, but he also loves home, and to him – that is his family. “I need your love to land” Reminds me a bit of traveling in general – it’s always fun to go, and it’s always nice to come home again. Home is comfortable, it’s love, it’s the anchor to the rest of our lives. I kind of think that is what Simon was trying to convey here. The lyrics aren’t necessarily all that difficult to understand, they don’t feel very abstract, but the message is, once again – beautiful.
There’s really only one word I need to describe “Land”, and that’s “beautiful”. This is one song that I can put on and drift away somewhere in my thoughts. It’s relaxing, and I think the band completely outdid themselves with the instrumentation on this one. Out of the entire album, this is the song where I can hear the most growth and maturity from the band, and it’s a shame it is stuck in the middle of the “B” side on an album that didn’t really allow the song to shine as it might have otherwise. I wish they’d play it live because it really deserves the highlight. “Land” is a song that I didn’t really discover or fully appreciate until adulthood, which reminds me why Amanda and I decided to do these reviews to begin with – to reacquaint ourselves with the full catalog. We hope our readers are enjoying the journey with us!
The song starts out with very soft instrumentation hidden behind the chorus of vocals. You can hear what sounds like some beautiful soft guitar with keyboards. I like how the notes the keyboards plays holds on for a long time until the sound just fades. Bass and drums are present along side the other elements of the instrumentations during the verse. If that wasn’t enough, some sax can also be heard, very quietly, in the chorus and to transition back to the verse. Overall, the music is definitely designed to be quiet, calm, and somewhat serene no matter which instrument one focuses on. No instrument is meant to be loud here. This softer instrumentation allows of the vocals to stand out for the majority of the song. Perhaps, the only time that the instrumentation takes the front seat is during the bridge when different instruments are heard, including what sounds like an acoustic guitar solo and some percussion that reminds me of a slight Middle Eastern musical flavor. This instrumentation is very unique in the Duran catalog and definitely enhances this song to musically be something different and something special.
The song begins with a lovely female chorus, featuring Carole Fredericks, Yvonne Jones and Beckie Bell, that lets the listener know that this song is going to be a very different Duran song but one that is soft and beautiful. Simon’s initial vocals reinforce this idea as his vocals are so soft that they are almost breathy. The words are gently sung with little need to finish the ends of the words. Instead, the focus is to move smoothly to the next word, next line. Even the chorus, which features a stronger vocal doesn’t spend a lot of time clearly saying every word. Simon’s vocals in this song remind me again that his vocals can and do become another instrument as the vocals are perfect to match the music and the mood of the music. I especially love the very breathy end to the song with the repetition of the line “love is land”.
This is not a song that I typically focus on the lyrics as I usually pay more attention to soft music. Plus, the line that always sticks out in my head is “Your love is life, for love is land.” This line, especially in isolation, means nothing to me. Yet, this line takes on a more significant meaning when you glance at the entire song. There are many references to leaving (“my ship will sail”, “Before I leave”) and this leaving appears to be through travel (“Standing, across the ocean stream”). Could it then be that land isn’t a noun but a verb, as in to land, to make a step on new ground? Could it be that this is a reference to commitment? Could it be the opposite? Could it be that one person in a relationship is leaving the other? Maybe. The first line about being sorry could indicate that. No matter the actual meaning as the lyrics still meet my general requirements as I want lyrics that make me feel or make me think. Lyrics like this with a potential metaphor definitely makes me think. I would go so far as to say that the lyrics match the mood of the music, too, with a soft, slightly melancholy feel. Well done, Simon.
When I think of the individual parts of this song, everything seems to be working. While the instrumentation might be different, it is really beautiful as are the lyrics and the vocals. Yet, I struggle to give this song a 5 cocktail rating. I think that, for whatever reason, when I want to listen to a ballad, this one does not come to mind. There is something that allows it to fade into the background too much. Perhaps, this had nothing to do with the song but with the listener. The ballads of Duran’s that are my go to are ones that I have made a personal connection to and this song I just haven’t. On paper or in this review, it is fabulous but it hasn’t totally hooked me yet even with the additional, focused listening for this review. That said, I suspect that if I had a chance to see it performed live, it might push me to that 5 cocktail rating! 😉
Which song would make the better 9th track for the ultimate Duran Duran album? It would follow these songs: Rio, Planet Earth, Lonely in Your Nightmare, Careless Memories, Hold Back the Rain, New Religion, Sound of Thunder and Friends of Mine.
Which song would make the better 9th track on the ultimate Duran Duran album? It would follow these songs: Rio, Planet Earth, Lonely in Your Nightmare, Careless Memories, Hold Back the Rain, New Religion, Sound of Thunder and Friends of Mine.
An outspoken examination and celebration of fandom!