Tag Archives: music critics

Big Trashy Thing

No one cares, but this is their best by miles. – Robert Christgau

As much as I love and appreciate every word Robert Christgau has ever written on music, he has never been a fan of my favorite bands. The Big Three for me as I turned 13 were Duran Duran, Howard Jones, and Thompson Twins. It wasn’t until 1989, well after their commercial peaks, when he gave one of them a B+ using his school-grade methodology. For those wondering, a B+ from Christgau equals “a good record, at least one of whose sides can be played with lasting interest and the other of which includes at least one enjoyable cut.” You’re telling me Rio isn’t at least a B+? Dude. 

Moving on. According to Christgau, the first “good” album from my Big Three artists was Big Trash by Thompson Twins. And it is, at least, a “good” album. In fact, it is arguably their best album but anyone claiming to love it more than Into The Gap has put too many shots of hipster in their chai latte. Then it occurred to me that another one of my favorite bands had released a “Big” album six months earlier. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Big Trash and Big Thing have a lot on common.

I recognize that I am assuming a certain level of awareness of Thompson Twins beyond the basic MTV stuff but the Daily Duranie audience knows music. However, I don’t blame you if you lost sight of Thompson Twins after Live Aid; most folks did. In a lot of ways, the Twins were on a similar trajectory to Duran Duran after Live Aid. Both lost band members before working on their next album and the resulting albums were more subdued, less colorful affairs. 

Earlier I mentioned the six-month gap between Big Thing (October ’88) and Big Trash (March ’89). Oddly enough, each band’s preceding album had a similar gap with Notorious (November ’86) arriving seven months before Close To the Bone (March ’87) As the decade traded “greed is good” for “feed the world”, both bands had to adapt their image and the albums reflected a more informed, mature take on the styles that made them successful. From Duran’s undeniably sexy funk of “Skin Trade” to the buoyant acoustic guitar of the Twin’s “Get That Love”, both albums showed musical growth and were able to slow the erosion of casual fans suddenly enamored with Jon Bon Jovi’s abs.

Two years later, the band’s went even further with their most experimental albums of the decade. Thompson Twins’ Big Trash turned up the guitars and the rhythm. “Bombers In the Sky” rocks harder than anything they ever did and “Sugar Daddy” showed they still had plenty of sweet hooks left in their Halloween bag. Sound familiar? Big Thing also finds a way to rock without taking you off the dance floor. 

Why weren’t Trash and Thing bigger? As a fan of both bands, these albums were strong artistic statements – hell, Christgau gave a rare B+ to a, as he loved to call them, anglo-disco group! Of the two, I get the most animated about Big Thing. There should have been four hit singles on that album not counting “Palomino” which belongs in the same special corner where us fans love to keep “The Chauffeur”. The band’s amped-up funk (“I Don’t Want Your Love”), post-punk despair (“Do You Believe In Shame?”), electro-pop (“All She Wants Is”), and command of atmosphere (“Too Late Marlene”) are all memorable examples of Duran Duran’s unique alchemy. Had Christgau given it a listen, I dare say that he might have conceded an A- for the effort. 

After their “Big” albums, both bands went through a bit of an identity crisis while trying to find the right sound for a new decade. Thompson Twins dove into the rave culture with 1991’s Queer while Duran opted to throw a bit of everything against the wall in hopes of something would stick. Hey, that’s their liberty. Evaluating those albums is best left to another day; if only to prove Christgau wrong. Someone does care. 

2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees

Well, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees are out, and you-know-who was notoriously left off the list. Again.

I’ve learned never to assume anything when it comes to writing this blog, but I have to think that many fans, but perhaps not all, would have liked seeing them included on the list of nominees. Am I right, or no? On the other hand, Duran Duran (notably Simon and John) have openly said during interviews that it’s a non-issue for them. They don’t care. They see it (the Hall of Fame) as a political vehicle and therefore it’s not worth their time. Whether or not this is truth or a carefully worded reply meant to hide disappointment, I can’t say.

Even so, there are groups of fans out there that try to rally support for their inclusion each year. In the past, we (Daily Duranie) have stayed out of the argument beyond echoing what the band has openly said themselves. It caused a few people, including those petitioning to have the band included, to block and unfriend us. Our official position was simple – if the band didn’t even want it, we felt like we shouldn’t push it. Some didn’t like that, and I can understand and accept their fury. I also need to call out what I see as industry-driven BS, as you’ll read below.

Before I go any further, here’s the list of 19 nominees for 2018:

Bon Jovi

Depeche Mode

Dire Straits

Eurythmics

J. Geils Band

Judas Priest

Kate Bush

Link Wray

LL Cool J

MC5

Moody Blues

Nina Simone

Radiohead

Rage Against the Machine

Rufus feat. Chaka Khan

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

The Cars

The Meters

The Zombies

The very idea that Duran Duran continues to be omitted from the list of nominees each year is gross. We’re not talking about a band that never graced a top ten list, or never did much beyond release a few unknown albums. At one point, Duran Duran was the biggest band in the world. They are video vanguards, lifetime achievers, and continue to influence younger generations of musicians and performers. They didn’t just embody the style of 1980 and beyond…they created and drove it.  They’re still creating, nearly 40 years later.

Yet with each passing year, they’re not even given a mention beyond a couple of tweets from well-meaning fans. Not only is the Hall of Fame dismissing the band and their career, but they are also smugly discounting the thousands of fans who have stood by them for the last four decades. The old men might not get it, but the little girls completely understand, and always have.

Last weekend, I finally sat down and watched the induction ceremony for 2017. Yes, I’m behind. The one thing I saw over and over was how the bands thanked their fans for getting them there. Of course I liked seeing that, and it was touching that when it came down to it for the bands being inducted, their fans mattered. I thought about all of the history I’ve read about Duran Duran.  Disparaging comments about the band’s fan base aren’t hard to find. The critics hated that little girls loved this band. As far as critics were concerned, the reason to hate this band was purely because little girls (who are now grown women) loved them. That one highlighted detail created a situation where Duran’s music was never quite taken seriously. Why would it? Girls liked them, they couldn’t possibly understand what good music is about, and therefore the band were pin-up material. Period.

Amanda and I haven’t just seen this written once or twice in books. It has been discussed in every piece of comprehensive band history we’ve ever read, watched, or heard.

Simon addressed this general topic in an interview done just before they appeared on Jimmy Kimmel in 2015. He commented about the critics and their hatred for them and their fans. He believes much of that comes down to jealousy, and that may very well be true. He also commented that much to the chagrin of the critics—many of whom are not still writing or in the industry—the fans of the band, and the band themselves, are still around today. In many aspects, that alone is the best revenge. But is it enough?

I’m not so sure.

Sexism, my friends, is alive and well in the music industry, whether  the performers themselves, the business-side, or the fans. Look at the list of nominees again. Do you see many bands up there that have a predominantly female fan base? I can see a few that might have a sizable percentage of female fans, but none of them to the extent of Duran’s. None. Why is that?

The very idea that a sizable number of Duran’s fan base are women drives people crazy. Even the band tries to even it out in interviews by mentioning the growing number of men in their live audiences. People try to attribute our (female) presence to be about anything but the music. I’ve seen the very words “What would girls know about music?” in print more times than I can count.

Really?

I have heard similar anecdotes from female fans all over, whether they’re a blogger like me, your average concert-goer, or a radio show host. Sexism is everywhere. If you’re a woman, you couldn’t possibly know anything about the band you admire beyond their looks, and the only reason for being a fan is to fulfill that one-night stand fantasy. You know, the one we’ve all secretly held for nearly 40 years now?  The assertion that we’re all fans because we’re still waiting for our one nighter with Simon, John, Nick and/or Roger is pretty astounding.

(Call me crazy, but the last thing I’d fantasize about is going backstage and getting on my knees for a band member, only to be gracefully guided to the exit doors immediately following. Why on earth would I waste FORTY YEARS on that???)

Seriously, people of this world, THINK. We’re gonna have to try harder. It does not have to be like this. We have to be ready and willing to call the bullshit out when we see it and force change to happen, because it is obviously not going to happen on its own.

Now THAT is an effort I can get behind.

-R