22
May 09

DURAN DURAN – “Is There Something I Should Know”

FT + Popular69 comments • 6,606 views

#518, 26th March 1983

“Is There Something” – released between albums to maximise chart returns – is by no means Duran Duran’s finest moment. The chorus is a chant in search of a hook, and the shamefully half-hearted middle eight is a collection of atmospheric blurts in search of an editor. It’s also – one notorious line aside – the least exciting of Duran’s mid-period hits. It lacks the gleeful absurdity of “Rio”, the sleaze of “Union Of The Snake”, the shameless drive of “Hungry Like The Wolf”.

For all that, there’s an aura of dumb confidence about the band that carries this record through. It reminds me a bit of Slade, another Midlands band who seized their moment and owned it completely. Not that they sounded anything like Slade, but like Slade they’re immediately recognisable, brazenly direct and seemed to have a sense of total security in their sound. (This is what made the band’s later fragmentation into cringing side projects so embarassing.)

That sound being? Well, you hear references to synthpop and to funk but those never quite capture it. On “Is There Something I Should Know” the defining feature of the music for me is that even though only Nick Rhodes played synths, everything sounds like a keyboard: vivid, staccato, and shiny. Except Simon Le Bon, who sounds as uncomprehendingly pained as ever, and as such was the group’s secret weapon.

Being Duran Duran’s singer meant you had to learn to sing absolute nonsense with absolute conviction, and if their next #1 was the greatest sustained example, “Is There Something” has their most famous line. “You say you’re easy on me / You’re about as easy as a nuclear war” – the lyric sums up the band’s sometimes clunking overreach, but Le Bon’s crunching delivery reminds you why they got away with it.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    lonepilgrim on 22 May 2009 #

    Watching the youtube clip of their performance of this song on the Oxford Road Show I was struck by how old fashioned this sounded. Barring the 80s production gloss I could imagine this being sung by the Beatles or the Hollies.

    Th official video starts quite well – ripping off Grace Jones’ stage show – but then loses it’s way a bit.

    Simon Le Bon joins Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet as lantern-jawed 80s singers with honking voices.

  2. 2
    Tom on 22 May 2009 #

    That’s a really rotten sleeve. The lines make it look like a page from someone’s exercise book.

  3. 3
    lonepilgrim on 22 May 2009 #

    I see the Drannies have replaced Adam – farewell sweet prince.

  4. 4
    LondonLee on 22 May 2009 #

    Didn’t this video have creepy schoolboys in it too? It must have, like the record I remember it being a veritable kitchen sink of visual overload. I always think this record is trying way too hard, a newly-monster band who haven’t had time to write a good song so pile on the effects to beef things up and hide the cracks. All sound and fury signifying nothing. Apart from ‘The Reflex’ I don’t remember liking anything they did after ‘Rio’ and think they’d pretty much shot their bolt early on.

  5. 5
    LondonLee on 22 May 2009 #

    Looks like a Malcolm Garrett sleeve to me, or someone ripping him off. That look was pretty common by 1983.

    Watching the video again I think I may have mixed it up with either ‘Wild Boys’ or ‘Union of The Snake’ – still pretty silly stuff though. The song was a little better than I remembered but not by much.

  6. 6
    rosie on 22 May 2009 #

    I never really got Duran Duran. Maybe I was already too old (at 27) and not really into watching the videos, so that even now I struggle to remember what Simon le Bon looked like. Not that I’ve ever been much into the kind of man with a lantern jaw and a six-pack but not much between the ears. Although, come to think of it, he looked a bit too much like a Thatcher acolyte for my liking. And that voice, which comes across to me as flat and rather droney. The nearest thing I can think of today is when Simon Armitage, most irritatingly-voiced poet in the known universe, comes on one of his regular radio slots.

    Duran’s best legacy is giving it’s name to one of Bristol’s most unmissable pub bands in the 1990s, Doreen Doreen. Nearer the mark would be the item I found one day in a Chinese cash-and-carry in that fine city. It was round, it was prickly, it had a reputation for being exquisite that I wasn’t able to see, and it stank.

    Yes, I’m talking about Durian Durian!

  7. 7
    wichita lineman on 22 May 2009 #

    Interesting, Tom, that you think it sounds entirely electronic: the smooth sequenced melancholia of Planet Earth and Careless Memories both have that exact feel for me (where do the guitars end and the synths begin on PE’s intro?), but this sounds closer to hair metal than electronica. So lumpy.

    I don’t think they gel musically at all, with drummer, guitarist, and singer all over-reaching, all out-pomping each other. Nasty eighties show-off pop. I agree with bunny-baiting Lee on each of his points.

    But then “I’m against the eighties, Duran Duran, fake make-up boys, the Rum Runner clan” you see.

  8. 8
    Martin Skidmore on 22 May 2009 #

    I am surprised there are any #1s from this period I can’t remember, but here is one! I had to look twice to be sure this was part of Popular. How odd.

  9. 9
    wichita lineman on 22 May 2009 #

    That is odd. It was a straight in at number one job, too, which caused a bit of fuss.

  10. 10
    Tom on 22 May 2009 #

    Well, I didn’t say the assorted keyboards gel together – they certainly made more seamless records. Hair metal generally all sounds keyboardy too!

    With their next #1 I’ll probably talk a bit more about my own relationship to them, which definitely colours how I feel about them now. Short version: I bought into the show-offiness and found it kind of aspirational.

  11. 11
    LondonLee on 22 May 2009 #

    Oops sorry about that, get off me bunny! Have a nice carrot.

  12. 12
    wichita lineman on 22 May 2009 #

    Yr right, I was equating “sounding like keyboards” with electronica rather than airy-but-clunky (how was that possible?) soullessness. The double bass-drum at the climax is usually a failsafe for cranking up the excitement but in this instance it only highlights the clumsiness of the production and the song almost falls to bits.

    Everything sounds like a Fairlight, it’s true! Probably a DX7 in there too, aka “the sound of Go West”. New Pop had warmer analogue synths to work with, OMD always used Korgs for instance, but there was an unpleasant sonic shift in ’83. I’m sure someone on here can explain exactly which gruesome keyboards are responsible for this. This was the point at which I stopped taping the Top 40 on Sunday.

  13. 13
    johnny on 22 May 2009 #

    i agree with your comment about the chorus being “a chant in search of a hook”, Tom. throw in the bizzare non-bridge and it’s easy to see what’s going on with this one: the band has a verse and riff for one song, a chorus for another. the record company says “boys, we need a single”. stick ’em together and presto! it sounds like the chorus was dropped in from another song altogether. still, this is the sound of a band reaching the height of fame. it’s always fun to listen to these.

  14. 14
    Steve Mannion on 22 May 2009 #

    so no #2s during this song’s brief reign but looking at ChartStats and recognising all other top 10 hits from the time inc. Altered Images fab ‘Don’t Talk To Me About Love’ (tho I didn’t hear this until last year) and Forrest ‘Rock The Boat’. The one I’m not sure I’ve ever heard is JoBoxers ‘Boxerbeat’.

  15. 15
    Steve Mannion on 22 May 2009 #

    re the Great Synth Shift, I think the first time I really noticed a synth brand name on TOTP it was ‘Emulator II’ and probably naughty Depeche Mode. The Kurzweil K250 also a major “culprit” no doubt. But hey I was too young to hate the sound or the pop it resulted in ;)

  16. 16
    wichitalineman on 22 May 2009 #

    I wasn’t THAT old, not quite! In spite of my taste in hush puppies and Farahs.

    But I suppose there was a continuum between Strawberry Fields Forever and Souvenir, via Prog (any mellotron-prog recommendations anyone?) – one of big, emotional chords – that this ultra-brite and brittle sound suddenly trashed.

    The tuneless middle eight, of which I have no recollection, is my favourite bit of the song. It has an oddness to rival that brief burst of harpsichord on Ant Rap.

  17. 17
    johnny on 22 May 2009 #

    #16 – i’m assuming you’re probably familiar with King Crimson’s first LP? great use of mellotron on that.

  18. 18
    wichitalineman on 22 May 2009 #

    No, I’m not. Cheers. The only one I’ve ever heard and liked was by Spring, a one-off album on Polydor, but I was guessing there had to be more.

  19. 19
    wichitalineman on 22 May 2009 #

    Not as big elsewhere: no.4 in the US, where Hungry Like The Wolf was their breakthrough hit at the beginning of the year peaking at 3.

    Also, no.16 in Belgium, 14 in Holland, 10 in Norway.

  20. 20
    adam on 22 May 2009 #

    I hate Duran Duran with a passion which is partially explained by their horrible look, their awful buying into to thatcherite ‘me me me’ culture, their nonsense claims of being punk’s true inheritors and their penchant for ridiculously tacky soft core porn videos, and also partially explained by the fact that my little sister was a screaing durannie who knew every little thing about them right down to when their brother’s birthdays were and managed once to fall down a flight of stairs and land at Nick Rhodes feet (and, following on from #6, the only other good thing they did apart from the cover band and the stinky fruit was suggesting a name for the very good New Rhodes who should be more famous than they are). Okay, it was mainly the sister thing that turned me off them but it was a very powerful turn off and that passion I hate them with is still there.

  21. 21
    Steve Mannion on 22 May 2009 #

    I thought DD were dead good altho I’m not sure I was fully aware of them before ‘New Moon On Monday’, the appreciation peaking with their Bond theme (but dropping pretty quickly a year or so after that).

  22. 22
    wichitalineman on 22 May 2009 #

    Most terrifying splinter group of all – Electric City, aka the sons of Duran. Working with Xenomania! And still lumpy and horrible!

  23. 23
    Tom on 22 May 2009 #

    People wishing a more extended visit to the land of Duran might like this Spotify playlist I knocked up from the votes of around 30 or so people on Twitter:

    http://open.spotify.com/user/freakytrigger/playlist/5OjWO4UXRwqJ907K1UwzsH

  24. 24
    Mark G on 22 May 2009 #

    Their pose was all “Sex Pistols crossed with Chic”, which was plain bobbins. For all that, I felt this was more Beatles in origin, and more honest than most of their other singles.

  25. 25
    johnny on 22 May 2009 #

    #24 &#1 – yes i agree this could almost be a beatles or hollies song, if done with guitars. that keyboard riff is pretty similar to “if i needed someone” or “ticket to ride” in its use.

    that’s a pretty original concept (i’m not saying they were specifically going for it, tho): 1965 beat music done with ’80s synths. has anyone knowingly attempted it before or since?

  26. 26
    Conrad on 22 May 2009 #

    I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at the level of negative comment. Duran Duran were always a group that polarised opinion, and unlike say Human League or Dep Mode, never really attained an ok-to-like status, certainly not amongst the boys at my school.

    But I’ve always had a soft spot for them and still love the Moroder/Japan-influenced debut album and its trio of classy singles. They developed their sound on “Rio”. Moving away from the austere sequencers and synth washes to a more luxurious, undeniably more commercial, production. It wasn’t as much to my liking, but they kept the surprising element of mystique that punctuated the debut (Tel Aviv, Night Boat) with album-closer “The Chauffeur”. And “Rio”, the title track is fabulous.

    By the time, “Is There Something I Should Know” appeared they were probably the most popular group in the country, and it was inevitable that this would go to Number 1.

    It does sound rushed – a stop-gap released to take advantage of their growing popularity. The production is interesting, much brasher and bolder than either of the two albums that preceded it. This I assume is partly down to the change of producer – Alex Sadkin came on board at this point, as well as perhaps the desire to make a statement, to release an ‘event’ single. The opening ‘Please, Please tell me now’ I took to be a deliberate nod to The Beatles, confident that their moment had come. But the chorus is anti-climactic, the weakest part of the track.

    The verse is great though and I love the bridge (I assume the comments about this sounding unfinished, odd sounding, tuneless etc are aimed at the middle 8, where indeed nothing but marking time between choruses seems to occur). The bridge itself features a very typical Duran melody (There’s a dream that strings the road/With broken glass for us to hold) – and is probably the best, most tuneful part of the song.

  27. 27
    Rory on 22 May 2009 #

    In the “Total Eclipse” thread, johnny talked about sister rock; for me, this is brother pop. My younger brother was the Durannie, not me, so every listen brings back memories of foolish teenage rivalries (if he liked it I obviously couldn’t, and vice versa). Their first two albums had some undeniably catchy songs, but this single signalled the beginning of their decline, even if it wasn’t included on the precipitous Seven and the Ragged Tiger. How strange that it was their first UK number one. Even stranger that they had none in Australia, where this only reached number four – which is about what I’d give it.

    Is there something you should know? Yes, Simon: this song isn’t nearly as big and important as it’s trying to be, the harmonica break is going to date faster than brie, and “I cut so far before I had to say…” doesn’t mean anything.

  28. 28
    johnny on 22 May 2009 #

    tears for fears possibly? that was a bit more “magical mystery tour”…

  29. 29
    Rory on 22 May 2009 #

    #26 – interesting point about the change of producer, Conrad. That’s no doubt why this is the dividing line for me between Good Duran and Bad Duran. Their music didn’t justify these new epic aspirations.

    Anyone else here have a teacher who called them “Durran Durran” (like “Durham”), or was it just me?

  30. 30
    Tom on 22 May 2009 #

    #29 – Argh sorry yes I really should avoid talking about “bridges” and “middle 8s” cos I always forget which is which.

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