Way back in 2017, Cherry Lipstick started a series whereby your team of writers wrote a fans-eye re-evaluation of every Duran Duran album. They are all available here.
There were rules to these retrospective appreciations of these albums (when it comes to Cherry Lipstick, there are always rules).
The reviews had to be about the ‘official’ album only. No b-sides or bonus tracks. No remixes, demos, or live versions of these songs. You couldn’t wish for Valentine Stones to be on Paper Gods instead of Danceaphobia. The Wedding Album had to be considered as a whole, which included To Whom It May Concern. Secret Oktober has never been on Seven and the Ragged Tiger.
Now Cherry Lipstick starts a new series of Duran Albums Reimagined. This asks questions like, What if they could be different? How might they be improved with some of the, er, duffers, removed? Or some additions from the time? A shake-up of the running order?
Now, this might unleash the shackles of bashing various songs. And that is inherent in the principle of ‘Why Duran Got It Wrong And I Know More Than Them’. You may not like that.
But remember this.
The debut album was altered to include Is There Something I Should Know for the US market. Rio was remixed from the UK release for the US audience. Arena has been re-released with two extra tracks. Big Thing was re-released with a new version of Drug. All You Need Is Now was originally only 9 tracks long. If you’ve only got Future Past on vinyl, you’ll think it is a 10-track album (I’ve only got it on deluxe CD and consider it is 15-track album).
It is at this point that I feel the need to impose rules on how this series might go, such as limiting any re-imagined album to a maximum running time of 55 minutes. However, Duran’s albums are not equal. ‘Paper Gods’ as an era spanned four years, and has a collective of 21 songs. Big Thing was under 9 months in the making, and has one b-side to show as an addition to those on the album. It seems better to let ‘rules’ slide (he says through gritted teeth) and see what happens.
It’s all done with the usual lashings of love on these tracks of lives. So, let’s give it a go and see what happens.
As Notorious was our first album review way back in May 2017, we start there again today. As Paul McCartney nearly sang, Let’s take a good album, and make it better.
If you are interested in joining in and submitting your Reimagined Album for publication, please contact Cherry Lipstick. Email email@example.com
Notorious has always been a favourite album of mine. Great album cover, perfect first track, a thing of wonder in Skin Trade, fab album tracks in Vertigo, Hold Me and with the big, brash finish of Proposition to round things off. It is the sound of our band surviving in a new world with a new sound, confident and upbeat, yet tinged for us fans with the sadness of knowing who was missing and the commercial failure that it did not deserve.
After the exuberance of Notorious as an opener, America Science is announced with a blast of horns, before it takes things down a notch and gets sensuous. This is all well and good, with the song being a fine track 2, introducing us to this new Duran sound. There’s a wail of guitar to hint back to older times, but this is bettered by the jangling riff that leads into the chorus where the horns take precedence. So here we are two tracks in, and the album could go either way. Enter Skin Trade. Now, the song’s excellence is not in doubt, but what it is does is keep the album’s energy on the down low. When it is followed by A Matter Of Feeling, the force of No-No-Notorious feels like a long time ago. It needs to be said that A Matter Of Feeling, by the end, is dragging somewhat. There was a perceptive review in Q magazine (January 1987*) which said that the album needed to “bubble,” and certain tracks “just drift past the ear.” This applies in particular to A Matter of Feeling – and one other, as we shall see.
On a recent play of the vinyl, I flipped the LP over and caught myself wincing. Side 2, while is has some great tracks on it, has never been a favourite of mine. But I wasn’t sure quite why.
We start with the genius that is Vertigo. No complaints here, but it does continue the dark mood. This is followed by the upbeat So Misled and Meet El Presidente, though both are early examples of Duran trying too hard (later examples including Drug, UMF, Safe, Tonight United). Having been urged to get up and dance, next up is the comedown of Winter Marches On. And here, dear reader, we are really about to part company.
My instinct to wince was here laid bare. I had spent three tracks flitting between the exquisiteness of Vertigo, the lumpen plod of So Misled and the forced enthusiasm of Meet El Presidente. Now came the icy grip of Winter Marches On, with no hiding place. Nile Rogers has recently been extolling its virtues, but to these ears the song offers no redemptive release (unlike My Antarctica, Palomino, or Falling). It fails to “bubble” and drags an already misshapen Side 2 down a blind alley.
With that analysis, it is time to Reimagine Notorious.
The principle of this series is to re-order track listings, and add / swap / remove tracks from the period. As you are well aware, there is only one b-side released from these sessions (We Need You) and that has no merit being anywhere near the album. Let’s see what we can do.
Side 1 needs to be tweaked to keep the tempo up. Leaving most of the side in its place, Skin Trade comes out, and is replaced with ‘Meet El Presidente’.
Side 2 needs surgery. Vertigo keeps its place as track one, but OUT goes So Misled - banished to the place where Bad Songs are forced to live. Skin Trade makes a far more sensible segue from Vertigo. With the principle that the first three albums all had 9 songs, I am only looking for two more songs on this side.
Reader, I have a problem with Winter Marches On**.
I always remember buying the Notorious 7” single and enjoying Winter Marches On as the b-side. Then I saw it on the album. “Oh,” I thought. “What’s the b-side doing there?” Put simply, if Winter Marches On had remained as a b-side, it would be considered as precious as Late Bar and Secret Oktober. It has to do too much heavy lifting on an album, especially when it follows the two weakest tracks. But what can take its place?
How about Don’t Look Back? Originally worked on during the 1984 Wild Boys session, as late as June 1986 John told a group of fans, “it’s a tear-jerker and [will be] the first single.” But we can’t know what Don’t Look Back sounds like.
I toyed with the idea of where A View To A Kill might fit on Notorious. Andy is on it, as he is scattered around the album, and it was less than 18 months old at the time. It would have added a known hit single to the album which needed some instant recognition, and eased the path from the Fab Five to the Thinned Out Three. Duran were happy to play it live on the Strange Behaviour tour. However, it was a stand-alone single for a reason, and the sound and ethos of Notorious demanded it be left behind. I am happy to accept that judgement.
So how about something else recorded in 1986?
Step forward Grey Lady Of The Sea. Simon’s first solo song was recorded in the summer of ‘86. It has an Arcadia-esque sensibility (like Winter Marches On), but has a more energetic, uplifting vocal. It needs John Taylor’s sensibilities to bring life to the chorus, away from the stabbing synths, but the finish would lead perfectly into Proposition.
Am I being deliberately contrary? Possibly. If Winter Marches On had remained as a b-side, would I have wanted it included on the album? Probably.
So here we have my choice for 'NOTORIOUS: REIMAGINED'.
Side 1: Notorious, American Science, ‘Meet El Presidente’, A Matter Of Feeling, Hold Me
Side 2: Vertigo (Do The Demolition), Skin Trade, Grey Lady Of The Sea, Proposition
*Then again, the same issue declared that Lionel Ritchie’s Dancing On The Ceiling was one of the top 50 albums of 1986, so you can pick and choose opinions.
**For the record, Winter Marches On wasn’t that popular with voters in the Cherry Lipstick Ultimate 80s poll we ran in 2018. It scraped through in second place in the group stage, getting knocked out in the Round of 32.
And for more about Don't Look Back and all things 1986, please check the excellent A Notorious Timeline (durancompilations.com)
Read all about the Road To Notorious in the Cherry Lipstick print fanzine
The Power Station.
Available now at the Cherry Lipstick e-bay store: Now only £3.45