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Music Review: Duran Duran – Big Thing (2010 Reissue)

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If only this were to be as simple as reviewing a product based on its own merits. Unfortunately, there’s a storm surrounding this one.

Forget Lady GaGa’s antics. Forget how dorky Justin Beiber is. Forget whether or not American Idol – and now Glee – are ruining popular music for all time. One of the biggest controversies in music right now is over reissued albums.

It’s actually been a widespread problem for some time. Only recently has it become too prevalent to ignore. In fact, one of the major reasons the reissue controversy has exploded was over the last set of Duran Duran reissues.

Re-releases of the band’s self-titled debut and Seven and the Ragged Tiger, as well as Arcadia’s So Red The Rose, were met with outrage from fans and even from one of the founding members. From complaints that the clicks in “Girls On Film” sound like the master tape was eaten to an Amazon reviewer pointing out that Seven and the Ragged Tiger “sounds like a third generation cassette copy” to even Andy Taylor himself decrying that “the remastering’s crap” that “sounds like it was done down the pub”. And that’s to say nothing of the “brickwalling.”

That’s right – the problem has gotten so bad that it has its own name. “Brickwalling” is basically defines as a recording in which ”there are no dynamics left in the music. Everything is so limited and compressed that all passages of the music are the same volume. Songs mastered this way are perceived to be LOUD LOUD LOUD! Also, when viewing a waveform in an audio editor, the waveform of something that is brickwalled doesn’t have peaks and valleys, and instead look like a two by four.”

Kinda like this:

Everyone has cried – and loudly – that these remasters were terrible. EMI’s response to satisfy their detractors and answer demands of refunds and make-up releases? Basically, their answer was: “We said they were remastered…not better. We’re not replacing any discs or refunding any money. Deal with it.”

It’s that string of events that leads us to the new wave Duran Duran reissues from EMI. Has the label learned from the last set of reissues and corrected the errors for the Big Thing reissue?

The short answer is, “Not really, but at least they made a little more of an effort and threw in some cool stuff to hopefully distract people from noticing.”

As far as the remastered album itself goes, the sound is somewhat improved from the earlier disasters released this year. For an album that wasn’t one of their greatest but still known for house-sounding singles (most notably “All She Wants Is”), the throbbing bass and urge to want to shake it like it’s goth night back at the old Alternative club (that’s probably a downtown Tiki Bar or something more obscene nowadays) are all but gone. This is where EMI – and whatever engineer remastered this edition, since there doesn’t seem to be one listed – screwed up. If everything is rendered at the same level, there’s no bass to stand out, which had to be the band’s original intention on songs like those. The rest is sucked dry of life and comes out sounding like a good cassette copy. Of course, EMI’s defense is that “remastered doesn’t mean better”, but isn’t that the point of a reissue to begin with?

Now, the good news. John Taylor expresses his pleasure in the (brief) liner notes that the original mix of “Drug (It’s a State of Mind)” is not only included in the package, but returned to the album where it was supposed to be in the first place. Disc 2 is also a plus with several B-sides, including – finally! – the full version of the classic “I Believe / All I Need to Know”. Added to that are various remixes, such as Shep Pettibone’s treatment of “I Don’t Want Your Love”, giving a near-comprehensive look at the band’s output around this time.

The DVD – containing “Big Thing Live”, a show from Italy in 1988 – is also a treat. Duran Duran is a vastly underrated live act, and at a time when their superstar was fading this was a prime example. With a little of the shine gone, the band played with some of their older songs, bringing them in to an overall live package that turned away from the flash and really got down to honing their performances to another level – something that shows even to this day for those lucky enough to have caught them live in the past several years.

Big Thing was already for the serious Duran fan, and the reissue maintains that. Casual fans may see it, not recognize any “Hungry Like The Wolf”s or anything like that, and keep going. In some ways, they would spare themselves the pain of a constant buzz that strips any feeling out of the original record. On the other hand, they would also rob themselves of a snapshot of a time when one of the biggest bands in the world in the 1980s were actually hitting a high point – if not creatively, then certainly in performance.

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About Michael Melchor

Michael Melchor has covered pop culture in all its forms for several publications and websites, including BackStage Pass magazine, 411Mania.com, and Examiner.com.
  • I’ve said it before, but it truly bears repeating: side two of “Big Thing” is a stone masterpiece. The very definition of underrated.

  • I think this is a very well written review. It is also obvious the author recognizes the talent that Duran Duran have and continue to bring to the table in their live shows. Having seen the band around 50 times through the years, I can honestly say there is no place I would rather be than @ a Duran Duran concert. I do wish the label would act more professionally and put out a quality product, and refrain from insulting their customers while they are @ it. But as a collector and avid (rabid?) Duranie since 1981, I will be adding these reissues to my collection.