Here we are, fresh into a new year, and we’re getting back on a reasonable schedule with our review series, we promise! Today, we’re going to check out the second track off of the Liberty album, which coincidentally is titled “Liberty”.
There isn’t a lot of background on the song that is readily available. The same could be said for the album, produced by Chris Kimsey, as a whole. It was the first DD album that the band didn’t schedule a tour behind, and it seems that the whole project lost a lot of steam upon its release. John has openly admitted his struggles with drug addiction during this period, stating that he does not remember much about the making of Liberty. This was also the first album that Warren Cuccurullo was made an official band member, along with Sterling Campbell (he left in 1991). Both were also given songwriting credits.
Simon has been quoted saying that he felt like the band had lost it’s concentration during the writing and recording, as though the band just stopped paying attention. This period of the band’s history, in hindsight, seems somewhat chaotic and scattered. Perhaps that feeling contributes to the lack of love fans tend to have for this album.
The beginning of the song still sends chills down my spine (this is good), and I think the opening synthesizer chords going into the keyboards sounds great. This is a band that has learned a lot from the days of Notorious, taking away the great jazz, horns, and syncopated rhythms from that album. There is a great down and dirty rhythm going on, just bubbling under the surface.
The bass is easily as good, if not better, than anything else John has done – I especially appreciate it on this song because while it isn’t quite as forward in the mix as on past albums, it can be felt. The drums, while pretty basic, are good and clean, although they feel fairly autonomous to my ears – it isn’t like when John and Roger play together, but by the time of Liberty it had been five years and two albums since Roger played with the band. Even so, I can recognize the difference.
What I don’t hear much of, is the guitar. It is there, but it’s not out front. You can’t miss the guitar solo at the bridge, although it isn’t meant to be an “in your face” solo. It’s far more about creating an aesthetic, which seems to be pretty thematic for the band during this period.
As soon as I heard Simon’s voice come in with the lyrics, I felt that pang of missing the band. I guess that’s something. Throughout the song though, I go from really enjoying Simon’s voice – it starts out like honey dripping down the side of a glass, to wishing he didn’t rely on falsetto. I’m a fan of his lower range, I guess – but the midrange is the Simon we know and love.
The feelings seem the same as in other songs – unrequited love, breakups, wanting what one can’t immediately have, and that sort of thing. I have no doubt that there’s a deeper message to be read here if one is so inclined. In some ways, I wonder if the love note isn’t more about the band members they’ve lost along the way. At this point in the band’s career, I would imagine the notebook filled with Simon’s poetry had been used up. The words are a lot less vague or symbolic, but the feelings still work.
As it turns out, there’s a reason why I never became a music critic. When we do these reviews, I listen to the songs we’re writing about over and over. The first time, I listen to the full song. The second, I try to focus on the music. The third, it’s for the vocals and the lyrics (I pull up the lyrics and read them along with the song). Then I tend to listen to the full song one more time, and finally – I write the review while listening to the song over and over in the background until I’m done. If it’s a song like “Hothead”, which will be our next review, listening over and over is an incentive to HURRY THE F***K up.
So, when I say that there’s a reason I didn’t become a music critic, it is because I’m too biased. I didn’t even know I *had* feelings about Liberty until I turned it on the first time. Hearing the keyboards and then Simon’s voice made me remember how much I miss them. I miss seeing this band and smiling up at them as they play. That feeling stuck with me the whole way through the review. How can I give the song a fair rating with that going on?!? I digress…
Liberty isn’t a bad song. There was the potential for something great here, and it is still lurking in the depths of the song. I wish they’d fleshed it out a bit more. The groove is good. I appreciate the jazz and syncopation. I think that instrumentally, Nick carries it and everyone else shows up as an “also appearing”. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I did have a moment when I thought about the Duran of the past – of the 80’s – and how things had changed. If I were an unbiased, unfeeling journalist, I don’t think I would have even considered that. I’d have listened to the music and let it stand on it’s own. With DD though, I can’t do it, though I try. Simon’s voice, when it is deep and passionate, does something to me. When it’s falsetto, high and thin, well, it *also* does something to me. I’ll be kind and leave it at that!
Musically, there is a lot here that reminds me of old school Duran. While the keyboards get the focus in the very, very beginning, soon there is a nice mixture going between the instruments. I especially like how the bass really forms the backbone with the keyboards periodically chiming in to get noticed. It isn’t like the instruments are fighting for dominance like we once heard in early Duran but more like complimenting each other. Interestingly enough, though, is that I don’t notice a lot of guitar until the song is more than half over. I’m not sure that it is super effective, though. I think the purpose was to act as a sort of bridge but, to me, I find it distracting. I think the song was fine without that.
The vocals feel like a mixed bag to me. On one hand, I love Simon’s vocals in the beginning as they are deep and draw the listener in. I also love the layering of lines like “If you want to stay with me” which creates a depth of sorts. Yet, the song does not always stay there. At times, Simon moves to a pretty high range, which confuses me. I don’t really understand why that was needed. Was it to create a certain feeling? To make the listener think that the main character’s mood or feelings change as he tries to deal with the changes with his relationship? I’m not sure but I think it detracts from the quality of the rest of the vocals.
I remember the first time I listened to this album and this song, in particular. I was struck by how much Simon’s lyrics had changed from those early 80s lyrics. Back then, I struggled to understand exactly what the heck the lyrics could be talking about. It always felt like some sort of mystery or puzzle. (Union of the Snake, anyone?) With this song, though, it seems so straight-forward. To me, it always read as a song about a relationship on the verge of ending with lines like, “Thank you for fine times.” Of course, the person is willing to keep the relationship going but has put the ball in the other person’s court, so to speak, with lyrics like, “If you wanna stay with me, At your liberty.” Could it be about something else? Could it be that I’m supposed to look deeper? Maybe but nothing has ever hit me about it except for exactly what I said earlier about the obvious story. Interestingly enough, I thought that I would hate lyrics like this when I just read/heard them but I didn’t. I found the change acceptable even though I liked the way it was before.
Looking at each of the sections of the review, I notice a theme. Liberty features some good elements but also some parts that take away some of the awesomeness. It feels like there is inconsistency there. I have to wonder about some of the choices that were made in the studio. Why decide to be so obvious in the lyrics? Why include the guitar where it did? Why have Simon sing so high, vocally? If they worked more on this song, would those pieces be adjusted? Maybe they needed to work less on it. I don’t know. Now, this isn’t to say that the song isn’t enjoyable. I really do like the song and it easily gets in my head when I hear it. It just isn’t a song that my appreciation grows for it once I listen more carefully.