We are closing out our time with Medazzaland by spending Monday listening to Undergoing Treatment, the final track on the album. Self-deprecating, as well as what many consider to be a jab back at media and press, let’s get into it.
For me, “Undergoing Treatment” hit as one of the weirdest songs on this album, musically speaking. In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Medazzaland, most of the band mentioned this song in some way, recalling greatness and humor. To this day, listening to this song remains uncomfortable. The song isn’t written in a typical key and the effects definitely add to the unharmonious nature. I can remember listening, cringing, and putting it away. As Simon puts it, “It’s like a marmite album – You either love it or hate it.” In my opinion, this song is a perfect example of that. I had to get past the off putting non-melodic nature of the music in order to even listen to the words and catch the humor.
Listening to the song now, however, is a totally different experience. Layers upon layers of effects and sound samples along with more than one layer of disjointed guitar and simple rhythm to keep the song moving forward at a leisurely, almost string of conscience pace, makes the music interesting, if you can get past the unharmonious nature of it all (in hindsight, even that discomfort makes sense). “There’s something missing that keeps you guessing” While at one point I may have panned the entire song, the fact is that there’s a genius in this song, and delivery, that only Duran Duran could have managed at that point in their career.
Oddly though, to me the song isn’t at all funny. It is sad. Sure, the humor might be sardonic and dry, but the fact that the band‚—or Simon anyway—was in a place where he wrote words like “We are undergoing treatment, Watching others in the news, Studying our worst reviews, They say we’ll get over it, Disappear like dinosaurs, To the sound of small applause, Resigned to mid-priced sections”, is just a little heartbreaking. This band was on top of the world in 1984, and I can’t imagine what it must have been like for them by 1997. Let’s face it, MTV – at least the one *I* knew – was on its way out. Radio, at least not the radio stations that had them on constant rotation in 1984, weren’t including anything new from them. The press and media had mostly written them off. Fans had drifted away. It was a different time, without any Taylors.
It is hard to ignore the darkness in the words, and I can further appreciate the almost offhanded delivery that Simon brings to the song, as if he doesn’t really care. Maybe he didn’t…but perhaps he did. I still wonder, and marvel at just how awful it must have been for the band at that time, particularly because it wasn’t even the original five people who started the course. Lesser bands would have quit. This one didn’t.
Even with the humor in the lyrics of this song, the entire album is tinged with sadness that is pretty difficult to escape or ignore, although Warren seems to have been able to do just that without exception, saying that the album was never a “downer”. For him, “it was quite the opposite, actually”, he explains.
Read the room, Warren. It really isn’t that difficult. It is comments such as these that both irritate and disappoint. For someone so talented, it is sad to see the complete lack of awareness. You don’t have to “prove” yourself if you’re really that gifted. The world would be able to hear it, and the talented could then afford to be humble and kind. Alas.
What strikes me most, are comments made by the band twenty years later. On one hand, you’ve got Simon and Nick that recall sadness, and the difficulty with Medazzaland (even though both recall the album with some fondness), whereas Warren thought it was Duran Duran’s greatest record ever. Talk about discord and rhyme. They were obviously on completely different planes of existence. Was Medazzaland their greatest record? I think that’s probably something each of us will decide for ourselves in time. As Simon says, it definitely isn’t one of their classics, but it is a pertinent snapshot of that period of time. I believe it is fair to say that while Medazzaland is not my favorite record, nor is Undergoing Treatment one of my favorite songs, I do understand the album much better at this point. I can appreciate the songs, the choices they made with regard to writing styles, and even the experimental nature of the album in general.
What an ending. Undergoing Treatment is a perfect bookend to the opening of Medazzaland. Much like the title track, I know quickly that I cannot judge it based on whether or not I want to listen to it, whether or not it is enjoyable. I’m not even sure that I should judge it by quality, if by quality there is an emphasis on typical song structure. No, this one needs to be looked at for its artistic merit. Did the band seek to do what they wanted to with this song?
Within a few seconds of this song beginning, you recognize that this is one where experimentation and effects will reign. Listeners are not sure what exactly they are listening to from one second to the next. They have no idea where exactly the song is going to go as it is clear that it is not following in some predetermined pattern. Then, you add on the multitude of effects going on and listeners are even more uncertain. Some might react with complete confusion and a “what the heck am I exactly listening to here” while others might be thrilled to be able to listen over and over again and pick up something new each time. I know that I have said this before while reviewing songs off this album but this track really does work so much better if you actually pay attention to the details. I know that I caught things in my most recent listening that I didn’t notice before. It is clear that they took considerable time to ensure that everything was there that needed to be there and that they were placed at just the right moment in the song. For example, the sound of a closing door at the end is so fitting, not only as the final track but also as the imagery of some sort of stay in a mental hospital.
The whole song from the lack of traditional structure and effects to the vocal quality and lyrics put listeners in a state of potential unease. Almost every time I listen to the song, it creates a feeling of being underwater, maybe overwhelmed, definitely confused. Simon’s vocals, for example, are often more whispers or have effects over them. They are not the strong vocals of most of the Duran catalog. Again, though, they work to add another element to the song just like having additional instrumentation would. The vocals enhance the feeling created by the musicality. Is the whole thing done to make listeners feel like they are in a mental hospital themselves, struggling with coherence and clarity. I could definitely see that as a possibility, especially when looking at the lyrics.
The lyrics tell such an interesting spin on fame, the music business and where they must have been at during this time of their lives and career. In seems to me that there have been many references with being famous throughout their career even going back to albums like Seven and the Ragged Tiger and Notorious. With Medazzaland, though, they are just putting it out there like they did here and with Buried in the Sand. I cannot help but to think that a big part of this album was them just saying that they are sick of playing the game and that they want to just create the art that they want to create. Unfortunately, I cannot say that the album has a feel of happiness, however. Maybe they literally couldn’t follow orders with this album. Maybe they had to create something so artistic, so different in order to process where they were mentally and emotionally without concern about pleasing the powers that be or even some fans. I have to admire that even if this isn’t a song or an album that I personally don’t listen to all that much in comparison to other albums.