We have arrived to the last regular track on Pop Trash, Last Day on Earth. The song was originally written by Warren Cuccurullo and Nick Rhodes under the title, “Tomorrow Never Dies” with vocalist Tessa Niles for the James Bond film of the same name. The song was not chosen for the movie, so Duran Duran re-recorded it for Pop Trash, using new lyrics and calling it “Last Day on Earth”. The song was released in Japan, and was used for the opening of Universal Studios Japan in Osaka.
So, the first thing I notice when listening to “Last Day on Earth” is that it is written in 5/4 time. What does that mean? Basically, it means there are five beats in a measure, and a quarter note is worth one beat. Now, many non-musicians will say that this is highly unusual, and that it is evidence of Warren’s genius. I have to laugh, because as a musician, it is common to run into this time signature, and no, it’s not genius songwriting. It’s not the first rock song I’ve heard in 5/4 time. While it certainly sounds more complex than your basis 4/4 time, it is commonplace. “My Wave”, by Soundgarden, “Eden” by Hozier, and even the theme from Mission Impossible are all examples of songs written in 5/4 time. The Beatles are infamous for screwing around with their time signatures. A lot of their songs, particularly their later ones, go from 4/4 to 9/8 to 5/4 and on to 10/8. Now THAT, is complex. And annoying (as a musician!). This concludes the lesson in music theory for today.
Last Day on Earth is incredibly catchy. I find that the beat really moves – pushing the music to keep going, and that’s due to the extra beat in the measure, for sure. The rock guitar feels like a true lead guitar in this one, and I can’t help but enjoy the roughness of the guitar playing with the smooth keyboards. It is a song that smacks you in the face, particularly since it follows the dreamy Kiss Goodbye. This one makes sure it’s leaving you wide awake and ready for whatever comes next. If you think the guitar is good, the drums are even better, because that is what is keeping this train moving down the track. They drive the 5/4 beat, and I would argue that it’s much harder to keep the beat in a song like this than it is to follow it! This is the type of song that needs a strong rhythm section in order to not completely go off the rails, and the band delivers.
The vocals are well-matched to the music, although I hear some of that same rasp and rawness from songs like “Violence of Summer”. That said, I think it belongs here to some extent. The theme of the song is taken literally from the title. What if this was your last day on Earth? The point of the song is that we never know, and that it only takes one wrong move for it all to go wrong. This is another song where I feel like the maturity of the band shows through its songwriting. This isn’t a dreamy, languid poetic tale. This song is about living and how anything could change in a single second. Would we do anything different if we knew our time was nearly up? It is a great subject for a song.
Last Day on Earth is an interesting song to end Pop Trash on, isn’t it? After all, it is the last album with Warren, the last album of just Simon, Nick and Warren before the reunion. Did they know that this was going to be the end of an era? Were they pondering the subject of the song? Were they feeling like it might be the band’s “last day”? Were they thinking about making big changes? Then, they opened a lot of the shows in this era with this song. It all makes me wonder, which is one of the things that I love the most about Duran Duran.
This song feels like a true rock song in the band’s catalog. It feels driven by guitars that one cannot escape from and drums that provide a strong foundation. Lyrically and vocally, you immediately want to join in and sing along. There is no easing into the song as it is immediate instrumentation, which definitely fits the meaning of the song, right? If your time is near, you cannot really escape. You have to deal. One element of the song’s musicality that I took note of is that there are bridges or moments of change. I think every one of them was slightly different. Again, knowing Duran, I have to wonder if that was not intentional. Was that to mirror what people would do when facing the end? Would they try different things to buy time? Ease up the pain? While I think the idea of these bridges is great in theory, they just don’t work as well as that guitar driven part, at least for me.
One part of the song, besides the rock guitar that I enjoy, is Simon’s vocals especially during the main verse and the chorus. There is definite attempt to adjust his vocals to fit not only the theme of the song but also the musicality and, for the most part, it works. Sometimes, during the bridges, I’m not as sure. Nonetheless, whatever flaw there might be, it does not detract from the overall quality of the song.
Overall, it is a good rock track with an interesting subject and one that you don’t have to think too hard about to just enjoy.