Duran Duran: The Special Editions, Part II

And here is where we most likely reach the end of the line for the re-issuing of Duran Duran’s catalog. This is not to say that there are no other albums during their time with Capitol that are worth having – 1997’s Medazzaland remains the band’s most underrated album to date, torpedoed by a terrible first single – but two of the three albums after Big Thing include 1990’s sonic meltdown Liberty and the oft-ridiculed 1995 covers album Thank You. They scored a massively successful comeback with their 1993 “Wedding Album,” but for all intents and purposes, Notorious and Big Thing were the last two albums the band made while still enjoying the penthouse view.

Duran Duran: Notorious

RIYL: Grand notorious slams. Bam.

Notorious suffered some pretty harsh criticism when it was released, and that’s understandable. Let’s face it, this is a dark-sounding album. (Heck, even the album cover is dark.) Those looking for more bouncy percussion and nonsense lyrics must have been stunned to hear so many minor-key grooves (mid-tempo ones at that) and Simon Le Bon singing about lovelessness (“A Matter of Feeling”) and the selling of sex (“Skin Trade”). After all, the last two times the band had hooked up with producer Nile Rodgers, the end results hit #1 (his remix of “The Reflex”) and #2 (“The Wild Boys”), so it’s fair to say that the band had some unfair expectations placed upon them from the get-go. All was well when it came to the title track though, thanks to Rodgers’ trademark scratch guitar and the album’s second-best chorus. (The honor for best chorus goes to “Skin Trade.”) What to make, then, of the chugging “American Science,” or dark rocker “Hold Me”? They’re interesting songs, but so far removed from the way the band had written in the past that they were easy to put down. In hindsight, though, Notorious has held up pretty damn well.

The bonus materials for Notorious are both awesome and maddening. Disc I contains a remaster of the album, fleshed out with single edits for the album’s three singles and the lone B-side “We Need You.” Disc II contains the 12″ mixes for the three singles as well as “American Science” and “Vertigo (Do the Demolition),” along with the live tracks from the Duran Goes Dutch EP. The big score here is “Notoriousaurus Rex,” an eight-minute megamix of the Notorious remixes that only appeared on the rare Master Mixes set. Even better, this version includes the spectacular edit of Notorious closing track “Proposition” that was edited out of the Master Mixes vinyl but appeared on a Capitol promo cassette. If a full-length remix of that song exists somewhere, please, release it.

This isn’t the only mix that was left off here, and that is the maddening part. The dub mixes were forsaken, as was the Latin Rascals mix of “Notorious.” For hardcore fans of the band, these mixes are the most desirable of anything from the period. Thankfully, they’re all available on one super-cheap Remix EP, which means many of the people that EMI is expecting to fork out 30 bones for this set might decide to pay three and change instead.

Duran Duran: Big Thing

RIYL: Noise. ‘Cause you like waking up the house.

Big Thing doesn’t have the dark vibe hanging over it that Notorious does, but it’s definitely a mellower affair than the band had made before, despite the tone of its first two singles. Once you get past the “Warm Leatherette”-riffing “I Don’t Want Your Love” and robotic “All She Wants Is,” Big Thing is filled with ballads, mannered attempts at funk, and interludes (sigh). There are some hidden gems here, notably the Spanish guitar-kissed “Land” and the simple “Too Late Marlene.” Unfortunately there is a lot of filler as well, namely all of Side II except for “Land” and “Palomino,” and even “Palomino” is dangerously close to being filler. It’s mostly pleasant filler, sure, but no one is going to call “The Edge of America” or “Lake Shore Driving” their favorite song by the band. One also wonders how they were never sued for third single “Do You Believe in Shame?,” as it is a blatant rip-off of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Suzie Q.” Probably because it wasn’t a hit. If it had been, some lawyer would surely have come knocking.

One other interesting bit with Big Thing (and it receives a new – but brief – liner note from John Taylor to address it) is the decision to put the original version of “Drug (It’s Just a State of Mind)” back on the album instead of the remix, which appeared on the original pressing of the album but is now relegated to the bonus disc. John is absolutely right that this version is much more in line stylistically with the rest of the album…but the other version is more fun to listen to. Just sayin’.

Disc II contains two bombshells that should get fans to pony up: a full-length version of the much-loved B-side “I Believe/All I Need to Know” and a 12″ mix for “Big Thing” that is apparently so rare that no one could track down the remix credits. The inclusion of Shep Pettibone’s Eurohouse mix of “All She Wants Is” is a plus though, and like they did with Notorious, there is a download EP of all of the dub mixes from this era. The DVD will be this set’s big carrot, though, as it contains a live show from one of the band’s shortest tours (dig Simon’s Michael Hutchence-esque mane and the striptease the backing singers do during “Skin Trade”), and is loaded with songs that the band has not played live since.

The label got the mastering right with both albums, in that there are no obvious gaffes like the whole “Girls on Film” thing with the reissue of the band’s first album, but these sets deserve some kind of updated liner notes, an intro written by someone either intimately involved with the band or someone well versed in their catalogue. Instead, they include pictures and a folded poster of the band from the photo sessions shot at the time. That’s a big-time missed opportunity, since it’s unlikely these two albums will receive the re-reissue treatment that their first three albums will get down the road. Still, with the holidays fast approaching, the special editions of Notorious and Big Thing are the pitch-perfect stocking stuffer for that Durannie in your life – and you all have one, whether you know it or not – who would love to own these sets but needs to get baby a new pair of shoes. (EMI 2010)

Duran Duran MySpace
Click to buy Notorious: Special Edition from Amazon
Click to buy The Remix EP from Amazon
Click to buy Big Thing: Special Edition from Amazon
Click to buy The Dub Mix EP from Amazon