Wednesday, 1 April 2009

1983 Duran Duran: Is There Something I Should Know?

I confess upfront that I have a soft spot for most of Duran Duran's singles prior to this one. 'Rio' 'Girls On Film' et al fizzed along with likeable verve and were catchy enough to paper over any of their cracked limitations. Harmless nonsense is what the band always did best, but now, at the height of their fame, it's as if they felt obliged to come out with some kind of 'big statement', to have a stab at something a bit more left of centre to show those pesky critics that there was more to them than hair and girls. Which they did with 'Is There Something I Should Know?' and in so doing overreached themselves horribly. Very horribly in fact.

The first thing you hear as the stylus hits the vinyl is Le Bon's trademark Brummie bellow shouting out "Please, please tell me now, is there something I should know? ". OK, it's dramatic enough, but does he get his answer? Who can tell? It's difficult to discern anything from this rambling mess of a song. Gone is the simple verse/chorus/verse approach that had served them well to date and in comes a tuneless sprawl with verses one, two and three all sounding like offcuts from separate, quite different songs with each playing in a different key and with a different tune to the one before. It takes no small degree of talent to pull something like that off successfully and whatever else the band may have been, Frank Zappa they are not. Far from it; the component parts to 'Is There Something I Should Know?' fit together as convincingly as a Jerry built shithouse made out of straw.

What doesn't help is that neither Le Bon nor the band sound like they have the first idea where all this is going. Everybody sounds lost in space but just when things seem to be meandering off the edge of the map into oblivion, Le Bon tries gamely to get back on some kind of track with another yell of the "Please, please tell me now" refrain, but rather than the reassuring return of a recognisable hook, the effect is as jarring as being woken from a light doze by having bamboo hammered under your fingernail.
This same cycle is repeated until the next round of the chorus until, with the resigned air of a towel being thrown into the ring, Le Bon proceeds to shout on auto repeat to the end. And though some gospel-like backing vocals try to inject some life at the runout, the song has been too badly holed below the water line by then for it to have any effect whatsoever in reviving this bloated corpse lying long dead in the water.

"Is There Something I Should Know?" is an awful song of no structure, no rhythm, no meaning and, in short, no point. But it got to number one (and in fact went straight in to the top spot) and sold over 500,000 copies so someone must have seen something in it. I just wish they'd please, please tell me what.

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