We have arrived in the land of glitz and glamour this week, with Hallucinating Elvis on the docket for review! Hallucinating Elvis is the fourth track from Pop Trash. Credits indicate that Hallucinating Elvis, along with the rest of the album, was written by Duran Duran, and produced by TV Mania in association with SYN Productions. This is a notable departure from previous albums, where production was always credited to Duran Duran along with outside producers.
According to Duran Duran Wiki (duranduran.fandom.com), “Hallucinating Elvis” was the original name for the Pop Trash album. The song is an uptempo rock track, about someone who believes they are turning into Elvis Presley. As one does….?
Let’s get it out of the way right off the bat – this song is a struggle for me. The song is weird. The premise is bizarre, and the experimental sound layering just makes the whole song feel more like I’m tripping out the entire way over the Pacific than listening to a Duran Duran song.
The audio sample that takes place during the first ten seconds sounds like it may have been a recording of a TV show played backwards. It has more of the hallmarks of a TV Mania song than it does Duran Duran, and I think that accurately explains how I feel about the song in general. While completely at home on a TV Mania record, it feels like it’s out of left field for Duran Duran. Now, when I say that, I realize a good many love the song, and that’s fine. It’s also okay for the band to experiment, but I wouldn’t be doing the review justice if I didn’t explain just how much of a change this song is – everything from instrumentation to production, and even song structure.
Once into the meat of the song, there is a crunchy, partially deconstructed guitar tune that is highlighted by a more melodic riff played by guitar, along with what seem like dozens of other sounds, layered with a complexity that has me hearing something new every time I listen. While I might struggle with the general sound, I can’t help but be impressed with the way everything comes together. Nick in particular, has a gift of knowing exactly what kind of sound is missing, and how to fit it in. Then halfway through, an existential, phantasmagoric sort of chordal section floats in. I picture myself floating through clouds, right into dreamland.
Vocally, if I didn’t know this was Duran Duran, I might question who was at the microphone. While it is most certainly Simon in the lyrics, his voice sounds slightly tinny and thin, due to effect. When I hear the song though, I have to wonder just how all-in to this album Simon really was at the time. It just doesn’t have the same feel as a typical Duran Duran song. While this certainly isn’t a song filled with emotion, it is obviously meant to be whimsical and fun (and bizarre, I might add). However, it just doesn’t sound like Duran Duran. It sounds like Nick and Warren, or a TV Mania song with a guest appearance by Simon. If it were a TV Mania song, then that make sense, but it’s not.
Hallucinating Elvis, at its core, is an auditory description of what was going on within the band at the time. At this point in time, I have the added luxury of hindsight and interviews done in retrospect. While all of them may like the song (and that isn’t an issue for me – I would hope the band appreciates all of its past work!), it is Simon, and possibly Nick, who recognize the internal grapple that had been taking place at the time. It is made all the more apparent by the production credits – this isn’t a song produced by a united “Duran Duran”, it was produced by TV Mania with Simon’s input. Sure, that might have been necessary and even appropriate at the time – but it remains a sort of mile marker for the band, nonetheless. As always, we can and should appreciate the song not just for the contribution made to the catalog or how it sounds to our ears, but also as it tells the story of the band’s career at that point in time, however turbulent or troubled. I know many who love this album and song, as you should.
I am not going to lie. This song makes me wonder if I am hallucinating as I listen to it as it is so out there. I don’t even know exactly where to start. Even the premise of the song makes me scratch my head. While I guess I can wrap my head around the idea of thinking about stars who came before them like Elvis. Obviously, he is quite a figure in the history of rock music and like so many he went through various shifts in his image and look. (Fun fact–I had a friend in college buy an Elvis impersonator for my birthday one year. Let me just tell you that he was not the young Elvis and the entire time I was worried that he was going to be a stripper. Frankly, it was a bit traumatizing.) Anyway, so I can get the appeal of Elvis without thinking about my personal experience. It isn’t the first time they have explored serious mental illness either. Still, I struggle to wrap my head around it.
Musically, it feels pretty out there as well. There is a sample at the very beginning and end of the song, which wasn’t super common then. Instrumentation wise, the song feels sort of psychedelic, which definitely matches the theme of the song. Then, of course, there are shifts in instrumentation between the chorus and verse, especially for the weird section that mentions the FBI, hidden cameras, and presidents. It is like just when I start to get used to the song, then they shift. It keeps me wondering what the heck will be next. Even at the end, when I think it is about to end, it goes on for another minute or so as “hallucinating elvis” is repeated over and over again. I am not sure that it is needed. The song could have ended a minute before without hurting the feel of the song, in my opinion. Speaking of the feel of the song, the lyrics and vocals definitely reinforce the feeling of hallucinating. The vocals are not a usual Simon vocal and I’m not even sure what the heck to say about those lyrics.
I recognize that I’ve been pretty critical of the song so far. It isn’t all bad, however. The song, particularly, the chorus manages to get stuck in the brain, which makes me want to listen to the song more. While I focus on how crazy this song is, I have to acknowledge that the song, including the musicality, lyrics and vocals form a cohesive package. It is rather intelligent and creative. I can give props to all of that. Now, I suspect that as soon as this review gets posted, we will get comments about how much people love the song. I can get that. I also have to wonder if some of the love comes from seeing this song performed live. I did not see it myself but I have seen enough clips to know that it was a sight to behold. Simon played it up. That would probably make me have fond memories as well. I can think of songs that I have not appreciated until I have seen them live, especially for the songs that are created in a more tongue-in-cheek fashion like Danceophobia. So, I recognize that I might have missed out with this one.
Overall, this song is certainly creative and creates a strong cohesive image. It fits the theme of losing one’s mind to a world full of both glamour as well as paranoia. I can recognize the genius there but I know that it is not a song that works for me. It is not one that I want to listen to much myself. It is just too much.