We are listening to Pop Trash Movie this week, the sixth track off of Pop Trash. Like the other offerings on this album, the song is credited as being produced by TV Mania. The track was originally written for Blondie, who toured with Duran Duran in 1982. There is a mention of this work (although the song in question is not specifically mentioned) Debbie Harry’s autobiography, and the demo of the song can be heard on the unofficial Dream Boyz album by Blondie.
Filled with lush undertones, skillful string arrangements and clean vocals, you’d almost think that Pop Trash Movie was supposed to be the “Ordinary World” of this album. Almost. Like many songs on this album, it is as though the initial thought was there. Certainly the first verse makes one believe that it is possible for this band to write another blockbuster like OW. However, somewhere along the line – like within the first chorus, some producer/s were a bit too heavy handed in the production, without allowing the song to simply speak for itself. The production grows and grows, eventually swallowing the vocals in a sea of effect and layering.
Musically, had they stayed with simplicity, the song would have gone over far better. So much of the music is lost in the effect. Take a listen to the beginning of the song. You hear the luscious guitar and Simon’s voice is first rate. As the first verse moves on, synths begin to creep in, and then the chorus hits. While it is certainly bigger than the first verse (and should be), Simon’s voice is echoed and the effect softens his tone to the point where the music nearly strangles the vocals. Everything sounds as though its at the same level, and while this chorus needs that triumphant feeling, the vocals seem like they’re being swallowed by the volume of everything else. Dynamics are important. If everything is the same volume and intensity, then all you’ve got is a wall of sound hitting you. Sometimes, that’s great. Other times, if overused or used incorrectly, the effect is lost. I’d argue it is used a little heavily in this piece. Then the next verse comes in, and the effects are stripped. The vocals are once again simple and clean, and the instrumentation is uncluttered until the middle eight. At that point, all of the levels are turned up, and the effect is just loud. There are no highs, no lows, it’s just noise hitting all at once until the vocals fade into the instrumental section. Then Warren’s guitar is brought to the top of the mix, nearly drowning out Simon’s vocals. So much layering and effect, and the song suffers as a result.
The lyrics, written by Nick, address a theme that the band and even Simon’s writing has gone back to over, and over again, throughout their career: fame. It would seem that the words tend to focus on how fleeting and fake fame, and also celebrity can be. While I doubt that the song is written directly about the band, or even Nick himself, thematically, it would seem that the sentiments are there. At the point of this album in their career, some might even say the band was at its lowest since their austere beginnings. They struggled to fill the House of Blues venues here in the states, and it would have seemed that even their most ardent fans had been absent during this period. There is certainly some sense of irony and even a little bitterness in the words, but I particularly agree with the line, “it’s never quite what it seems”. Amen to that.
One thing I would add about Simon’s vocals, and it is something I’ve noticed throughout the album – he sounds detached and distant, as though he doesn’t quite fully buy in to what he is singing. While I’ll admit that hindsight allows me the luxury of knowing Simon struggled with this album, that detachment in his emotion and delivery is something I’ve detected on Pop Trash since its release. It almost sounds as though he’s bored. Like many songs on this album, the song was almost there, and could have been great, but didn’t quite check all of the boxes.
Pop Trash Movie is one of those songs that I have a certain perception of, a certain feeling attached to it. This makes me think that I could absolutely write a review about it without even listening. Yet, the overall feel of the song loses something when you do go back and listen with the idea of really paying attention. Before this review if someone would have asked me about this song, I would have made some comment about the subject, including the sense that no one really knows what you are going through except for the people walking that journey with you. In this case, of course, the journey is about being famous and having the spotlight and limelight always around. I may have made some comment about how the song generally feels like a traditional song with solid Duran instrumentation, beautiful lyrics and vocals that match the mood of the song.
When I listen to the song more carefully, I notice more of the details. The song opens exactly as I remember it with a feel of sadness. Rewinding the tape is not one of joy, necessarily just significance, according to the lyrics. Simon’s vocals definitely match this undercurrent of sadness. The chorus is strong with clear vocals and emotions. Interestingly enough, by about two minutes in, it feels more like Simon is fighting for dominance or at least fighting to be heard. I have to wonder if that was a production error or if it was intentional. It could be that with fame, one’s voice gets harder and harder to be heard over everything. It creates an overall feeling of loudness that did not exist in the beginning of the song. Again, that could be intentional. Then, I have to wonder why they did not end the song at about the four minute mark. That last minute or so does not offer much as it is a lot of Warren, which would be okay but it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the song, in my opinion.
Overall, this song has a lot of potential. I think the lyrics, while very fitting for the story of fame, can be applied to anyone who walked through a significant and hard to understand experience with others. I know, for example, that I could apply many of the lyrics to what it has been like to write this blog for over 11 years. People may think they know but do they? The only ones who really get it are Rhonda and myself. I could say the same for working on small campaigns. Does anyone know what it is like unless you were there? Unless you were part of it? Not really. So, I like the universality of the lyrics. I appreciate the heck out of the feel of the song for the majority of it. It feels like Simon is telling a story in a very matter of fact way when, in reality, there is a strong undercurrent of sadness and almost loneliness to it. That being said, that last minute or so along hurts the overall quality, for me. If it had ended sooner, I would like it more than I do.