Lost Treasures #10: Dirty Great Monster
There are two tracks that don’t fit the Timbaland template on the perpetually maligned Red Carpet Massacre - the folksy intimacy of Box Full o Honey and the theatrical menace of Dirty Great Monster. I’m here to spotlight the latter. I gave it three stars in my review of RCM for Cherry Lipstick 3 years ago, so I won’t sell it as the new Ordinary World.
For example, the track title nods to childish nightmares, the “ooh-ahh” vocal backdrop mimics a pantomime chorus; the faux piano loop seems as authentic as tinned fruit with powdered custard, liberally sprinkled with a muddied drum machine like vermicelli; trying to distinguish the bass melody through the dull background thud is harder than finding JT on the defaced cover of Medazzaland. Indeed, you’d be forgiven that John and Roger had left the band again. Quite frankly, the mixing and production are criminally executed on this track. The song structure is also jarring, with an elaborate bridge that leads to an absent chorus.
For many, RCM fell flat because, firstly, it defied preconceived expectations of the “band sound” with its R&B infusion, and secondly, it failed to find a cultural frame of reference within the existing record collections of fans.
Irrespective of a band’s influences, the record-buying public curate their collection through visceral instinct and only later, if at all, visit the muses of their chosen idols. As a case in point, the '60s and '70s track choices on Thank You alienated the listener. Similarly R&B infusion on Red Carpet Massacre was not supported by existing fan libraries.
Dirty Great Monster, for me, is a hybrid, with string glam rock elements that have been butchered by an R&B plastic surgeon. To appreciate it fully requires something of a listener cerebral remix of its component parts.
I am not especially qualified to discuss glam rock influences, or indeed anything from the '70s being born in the Year Of Our DD myself, yet like many I have started to explore and appreciate DD influences retrospectively. My amateur ear can hear Dirty Great Monster’s vocal backdrop on Roxy Music’s Grey Lagoons, its sax solo in Andy Mackay’s performance of Song for Europe, and its esoteric leanings in a solid third of the early Roxy Music catalogue. I can hear Bowie’s Here Comes The Night, Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs in the horn-based bridge / pseudo-chorus. Closer to home in terms of cultural references, the horns in the bridge of Dirty Great Monster echo the swagger of the Air studio version of Tel Aviv, one of my all time favourite Duran tracks.
Forget All You Need Is Now - this is a return to roots track... disguised regrettably in an R&B album.
I didn’t hear this in Dirty Great Monster 10 years ago. I barely have the terms of reference to explain what I can hear now. Someone else, not me, could be far more culturally articulate if inclined. And yet I believe this absence of reference is an aspect that alienates most fans to this day, and I’m not quite the anomaly I imagine. I do finally have a vague outline appreciation and admiration of the thrust and ambition of this track. Moreover, the vocal delivery of DGM is superbly menacing and hypnotic, ensnaring the listener into a web of complicit silence and dark family secrets that constitute the song’s theme.
In my dreams this theatrical nightmare is reimagined as conversation of contrast; it entails a sinister, stripped-back verse with crisp bass line and organic drum beat sitting lower in the mix, then brought forward for the elaborate bridge to accompany the horns and a fleshed out string section (yes - there are strings!). How glorious would that be? All of the ingredients are already there.
Why is it so hard for the band to bring solid songwriting over the finish line? Why is it necessary to cover the flamboyant heart of this song in a cheap veneer of chrome? I wish Duran would pay for some goddamn musicians and stop trying to recreate everything synthetically. However, none of this should take from a poorly executed track on a commercially misguided album. This is a song that’s begging to be reworked and performed live with a calibre of musicians befitting of DD.... 43?!? celebrations. In my head, where I live a lot of the time, it already has been. And each time I hear Dirty Great Monster, I hear my dream, and not a nightmare.
If nothing else, Duran Duran sell dreams. So listen to Dirty Great Monster again and see if you can find yours.
(sorry, can't post the clip here - this is the link to go check out the song and to hear (differently?) again