REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/07/2009
If I had to do my Pop 100 over, Duran Duran’s Big Thing would definitely make the cut. Chronologically released after the Niles Rodgers-helmed Notorious and before everything went all to hell on 1990’s Liberty, Big Thing is something of a concept album in its ambitious intentions and clear artistic viewpoint. It has something for the passing fan and the club-goer to find appealing, which is not an easy feat in itself.
Virtually the entire first half is vintage Duran Duran, albeit with a slightly heavier, grittier street sound (as demonstrated by the slow beat-driven title track). The two #1 dance hits “I Don’t Want Your Love” and “All She Wants Is” are frontloaded for the impatient listeners of the world to enjoy. The synthesized beats on “I Don’t Want Your Love” are more prominent in this album version, making it far preferable to the mediocre single mix. And with its dark and moody tone, “All She Wants Is” is like no other Duran track you have ever heard before. This was the creative direction I was hoping they would go into for their next album, though that would have to wait for the heaven-sent Medazzaland precisely ten years later.
After such a claustrophobic start, along comes the cool-down of “Too Late Marlene” and the brilliant “Palomino,” two ballads that would have made awesome singles. Instead, they chose to release “Do You Believe In Shame,” which hardly got any airplay, nor did it catch fire on the charts. Still, it’s a good enough song, one that I’ve come to like more and more over the years. Producers Jonathan Elias and Daniel Abraham steer this Big Thing, an album that is rich with melody – not to mention the fact that it contains some of the most breathtaking soundscapes this band has ever attempted. The arrangements for the “scenic” trilogy “Land,” “The Edge Of America” and “Lake Shore Driving” are so complex, they will undoubtedly go over the average Joe’s head, but for a highbrow type like myself it is musical gold at the end of an already colorful rainbow.
Apart from the dance club scene, this album got its unfair share of drubbing from the critics and public alike back in 1988. But that was then, when things were quick and disposable; anything reeking of artistic merit was immediately deemed pompous and pretentious. If this album were to be released today, perhaps such cantankerous individuals wouldn’t be so quick to judge. As the first Duran album to feature new guitarist (and former Missing Person) Warren Cuccurullo, Big Thing is one far-reaching disc that deserves another listen. It’s not only their last album of the ‘80s (which is, after all, the decade the band is most known for), but it’s also the last truly consistent effort for the ever-changing line-up. I, for one, am still a BIG fan.