The last winner: 1st album
Which album would you prefer to hear live in entirety: Big Thing or Astronaut?
The last winner: 1st album
Which album would you prefer to hear live in entirety: Big Thing or Astronaut?
Wow. If these are the opening remarks of this series, Amanda and I need to do our homework! Great job, everyone. I thoroughly enjoyed reading and contemplating a reply. Originally I was going to just reply in a comment, and then I wrote a short novel and realized that wasn’t going to work.
I can’t say that my view has been completely changed, but I’ve certainly been given some food for thought. I’d like to keep my response to the same 250 word limit given to our esteemed interns. I was close…
Sexism is about power. Those who hold the power oppressing, defining, and weakening those who do not. With that in mind, none of the songs offered up as being possibly more sexist tend to hold up, at least lyrically. In these cases: ASWI, HLTW, GOF and The Chauffeur, the words clearly put the woman in a position of power. The man is ultimately chasing them. Even in GOF, arguably the most lyrically sexist song lyrically of those mentioned, the woman is clearly a model. There is no clear indication that she is there by force. Read My Lips, on the other hand, is overtly sexual – no argument there – but sexist? I read the lyrics as perhaps someone (maybe even a celeb) in a bar trying to convince a woman to go away with him for a one night stand. Falling Down has nothing to do with sexism, lyrically. It could be about anyone.
In Electric Barbarella, we can read that this female subject was found on a so-called “showroom floor”. At the onset, she has no power – whether robot, or arguably, even if human. She is powerless. He buys her. He takes her home, dresses her, “plugs her in” and trains her.
In videos, women still have the power. ASWI – the men are puppets. HTLW – the male is desperately pursuing the female. GOF – in every vignette, it is a woman in charge. She is the horse rider, the masseuse, even the hero. Sex objects, yes. Sexism? No. In Falling Down, the video definitely poses women as the rehab/psych patients and the men are doctors, treating the patients. Is that as overtly sexist? I don’t think so.
Loved doing this – it was a great exercise!
The last winner: Astronaut
Which album would you prefer to see performed live in entirety: All You Need Is Now or First Album?
Several years back, I found an article online that compared the first three Duran Duran albums to the original Star Wars trilogy. It was a brilliant comparison; unfortunately, I never bookmarked the article and have since been unable to track it down. (Note to readers: ping
me on Twitter (@ckshortell) if you happen to find it.)
I think a similar comparison could be made with some of Duran’s post-reunion albums and the newest Star Wars trilogy. Actually, there’s probably a longer comparison that could compare the entire Star Wars canon with all 14 Duran albums and side projects. But for now, let’s stick to a simple, but apt, comparison.
The latest Star Wars trilogy launched with 2015’s The Force Awakens. Ten years after the end of the financially successful but critically panned prequel trilogy, The Force Awakens, directed
by J.J. Abrams, was actually as much a “soft reboot” of the Star Wars franchise as it was a sequel trilogy. Hugely successful, the movie introduced new characters into the mythology while employing some heavy nostalgia. A bunch of plucky rebels must destroy a big bad planet killing machine! Or, in this instance, a star system killing machine! There were some changes, however. The hero was now a woman, played by the very charismatic Daisy Ridley; the bad guy, Kylo Ren, was still “in training” and not all powerful; and overall, the cast was much more diverse than the original.
Think back to nine years ago and All You Need is Now. That album came on the heels of 2007’s Red Carpet Massacre, itself a massacre of circumstance (after Andy’s departure and the shelving of Reportage) and collaboration (with very un-Duranie collaborators like Timbaland joining the team.) (For the record: I mostly like RCM. But for the purposes of this comparison, I’m going with how most of the fanbase reacted to it. Which was badly. Very badly.)
Where did Duran go? To Mark Ronson, as much the “hot” producer as J.J. Abrams was the “hot” director for the Star Wars franchise. And what did Ronson do? Basically “reboot” Duran by helping them craft an album closer to their original, early 80’s sound than anything they had done since. The video about the creation of “Girl Panic” is a microcosm of this approach. “Play the drums like ‘Girls on Film’, Ronson told Roger. And the guitar, asked Dom? “Like Andy played it…on Girls on Film.” And on and on.
But All You Need is Now was more than just a retread of the early material—it genuinely worked, with catchy hooks and classic Duran choruses that had been lacking from many of the previous albums. One review asked, “Where have all these songs been hiding all these years?” Yes, there were clear nods to Rio. But the album also paid homage to other Duran eras. “Safe” channeled the funk from Notorious. The industrial sounding keyboard synth on the title track,
coupled with Dom’s guitars, brought to mind the more rock-oriented 90’s Duran sound, while the chorus was vintage Duran.
Like The Force Awakens, All You Need is Now did add some diversity to the mix. Simon shared the vocals more on AYNIN than on any previous album, with guest appearances by Kelis and Ana Matronic, as well as broadcaster Nina Hossain providing spoken word codas to two songs.
Overall, All You Need is Now succeeded for the same reasons that The Force Awakens did: it created something new, yet familiar, with a broad appeal to both core and new fans alike.
There was a great deal of anticipation following the huge success of The Force Awakens. Specifically, the next movie was set to feature the return of Luke Skywalker, the hero of the original Star Wars trilogy. Mark Hamill reprised the role and was in the closing seconds of The Force Awakens, teasing fans and making the two-year gap between movies seem interminable. The Last Jedi also featured a different director—Rian Johnson—who took over the reins from
Unlike The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi proved to be a very divisive movie within the Star Wars fanbase. Luke Skywalker’s portrayal as a bitter, older Jedi who intentionally cut himself off from the Force came as a shock to fans, who wanted to see their childhood hero wield his lightsaber and confidently bring the First Order (the bad guys in the movie) to their knees. It didn’t help matters that Mark Hamill was quoted as questioning the script.
The b-plot of the movie—the flight of the Resistance from the First Order—also ends in disaster for our heroes, which didn’t sit well with fans, who thought that much of that plotline was pointless. And, spoiler alert: most of the Resistance dies. In fact, there are so few remaining rebels that they are all able to fit on the Millennium Falcon at the film’s conclusion.
The movie also seemed to gut the new trilogy of any sense of mystery by resolving (or simply negating) far too many plot points than a middle act typically would. Who, exactly, was Supreme Leader Snoke? Apparently, it didn’t matter as he was cut in two by Kylo Ren. Who were Rey’s parents? They were “nobodies” – a major subversion of the “Luke, I am your father” revelation from The Empire Strikes Back.
Meanwhile, on planet earth, Duran Duran followed up the fan friendly All You Need is Now with Paper Gods, an album seemingly as divisive among the fan base as the loathed Red Carpet Massacre. Again, I will freely acknowledge my bias: While I don’t love every single track on Paper Gods, on balance, I think it’s an amazing album, possibly their best since The Wedding Album. As usual, my opinion is likely in the minority among the Duran fan base.
Like The Last Jedi, Paper Gods subverts expectations. The title track is like nothing we’ve really heard from Duran before—it’s an epic opener, a cross between “New Religion” and “The Valley” in sheer scope. And therein lies the problem for some—why would you ever want to channel “The Valley” in any way, shape, or form? (For the record: I love “The Valley”. So I’m fine with it.)
“Last Night in the City” follows, and once again, we’ve shed the 80’s formula from AYNIN. Synths dominate; guitar is largely absent. The band seemed more concerned with a sound that would find chart success in 2015 vs. 1983.
Paper Gods, ultimately, feels like a bunch of different albums lumped onto one playlist. There’s the modern, dance oriented, sequel to Red Carpet Massacre that can be heard on tracks like, “Last Night In the City,” “Danceophobia,” “Face for Today,” and “Change the Skyline.” Then there are darker, more experimental cuts like the title track and “You Kill Me With Silence.” There’s more funk on this album than anything since Notorious, as found on “Butterfly Girl”, “Pressure Off,” “Only in Dreams,” and even “The Universe Alone.” And then there are songs that refuse to fit in any box: the dreamy “What Are the Chances,” in the classic tradition of Duran ballads; the 70’s sounding “Sunset Garage,” which sounds like nothing heard before on any previous Duran album. Even “Face for Today”—which I lumped in with the “modern dance” set of tracks—features as classic a Duran chorus as you will ever hear, that could hav been ripped from 1983’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger sessions.
Paper Gods, like The Last Jedi, dared to be different; it dared to cover new (and old) ground. And both caused their respective fan bases some consternation, as they seemingly failed to live up to the expectations set by the preceding work.
Which brings us to the present. Expectations are high across both the Duran and Star Wars fandoms. In a little over a month, the new Star Wars trilogy concludes with the highly anticipated Rise of Skywalker. The trailer has offered some tantalizing clues, but overall, the plot continues to be shrouded in mystery.
Likewise, the next Duran Duran album is slated for release…possibly in the spring of next year? We all know not to give too much credence to when the band claims its new album will be out. But everything seems lined up for a new album and tour to (finally!) commemorate the 40th anniversary of the band. We’ve gotten a few details on it—Simon claimed recently that it’s an album that will “make you dance” like “Rio”—but we’ve heard similar claims about previous albums that didn’t necessarily turn out true.
What is true is that both the next Star Wars movie and Duran Duran album are highly anticipated by their fans, and many are hoping for change of direction. Will fans be happy with the finished product? Or after so many hears, is it an impossible task that we’ve set up these artists to accomplish?
Stay tuned…and May the (Duran) Force Be With You
So here we are, at the beginning of the Liberty album. Violence of Summer [Love’s Taking Over] was the 21st single from Duran Duran, and the first off of Liberty. Curiously, this song was originally titled “Live-in Lover”, using the same musical track but different lyrics. A demo of this song (which we always find fascinating to hear), is included on an unofficial compilation Didn’t Anybody Tell You? if you can find it!
The album itself, or at least the band image, seemed to change dramatically between Big Thing and Liberty. Shorter haircuts, paler skin…and a serious muscular increase in guitarist Warren Cuccurullo, along with the addition of drummer Sterling Campbell. It was very clear this was a very different Duran Duran at the beginning of the 1990s. With that, let’s get started!
I don’t know how one can listen to this song and sit still. It is incredibly pop – I mean, there’s absolutely no hiding that fact with this one. Nick doesn’t even try with his semi-funhouse sounding keyboards. The other thing I notice about the song, almost immediately, is that the sound is incredibly top heavy. There isn’t much of a bottom (bass) to it, although it is there deep in the mix! Drums are there, but again- not obvious. The result is a song that doesn’t feel balanced. Fun, yes! Balanced? No.
Guitar is barely discernible as well – enough to where I have to wonder if it’s there at all! I do love the piano both at the beginning and end, and it is only then (at the end) that I hear the high hat cymbal, along with a ton of background “bubbling” as though they’ve poured (yep, you guessed it!) soda pop into a glass!
Yep, this is 100% pure, shamelessly fun, pop.
I don’t know what in the hell was going on in Simon’s life at this time, but his vocals sound like he took a rake, swallowed it, and dragged it back out. They’re incredibly rough sounding. I don’t know if they made him sing the song 5,000 times in succession or if he had a nasty sore throat. He still hits the notes, but the ones at the top of his range suffer. Oddly, it isn’t off-putting and adds to the style of the song.
The themes are decidedly Duran, but presented far differently. Fleeting love, flirtation, and a bit of the female/male push and pull – nothing we haven’t seen before. What IS different, however, is the way the themes are portrayed. Rather than the somewhat romantic, poetic imagery as in previous albums, Violence of Summer is rather blatant. Girl with boy meets another boy and decides to go with him instead, causing what I can only assume is a fight later on. It’s a bit, well, pedestrian, really – and seems to be such a huge departure from songs like “Edge of America” or even “Palomino”. This is a very different Duran Duran in 1990.
Violence of Summer is a fun song. It is the song I blast in my car at 2am when I’m driving somewhere and need to stay awake. It is a carefree, sing-a-long without a worry song. The song isn’t deep, definitely not introspective, and not really the Duran Duran that I am used to. When critics speak of how pop driven Duran Duran has been during their career, my mind automatically drifts to this song.
The song still sounds incredibly top-heavy to me, as though I have my stereo turned all the way to treble without any bass. I fault the mixing here, as well as the production, because it does feel very overdone. Additionally, Simon’s raspiness – it’s distracting only because I know what he normally sounded like, and this wasn’t it. I can remember hearing this song when it was released, and while it had many of the hallmarks of a typical Duran Duran song – something was indeed different. The unbalanced sound, the lyrics about girls and bikers, and the naming of Warren as an official member of Duran Duran (1989 at the end of the Big Thing tour), along with Sterling Campbell were all things that changed the band’s sound. It would be unfair to review this song without fairly considering those major changes. I enjoy the song, but it has never been one that I take seriously. It has merit for those occasions when I need those carefree moments.
It hard for me to imagine, off the top of my head, another Duran song that is so focused on piano. It grabs you right away. Now, of course, this isn’t your serious piano recital kind of piano but one that it is designed to be fun and pop-focused, which I don’t mind. I like that Duran mixes it up a bit like that. Of course, other instruments chime in but it really feels like I have to really concentrate to notice them, especially guitar for the most part. As with many other Duran songs, there is some effects going on as well giving an almost underwater sort of sound through the verses. Rhonda called it “bubbling” in her review above, which is a good word for it! One final note on the musicality of this song that I have noticed is how little difference there really is between verse and chorus until the end. I have to really to listen to there lyrics to tell when the song switches from one to the other, which doesn’t feel like typical Duran to me.
I’m not exactly sure what to think about Simon’s vocals here. One thing that amazes me about Simon’s voice is how it helps to create a mood, a feeling. In this case, his vocals works to create a fun mood, forcing each listener to sing along even if you try to resist. I tend to think that is the only thing that was the focus when recording and mixing this one. All that was wanted was for Simon to add to the pop nature and feel of the song. That’s it. Nothing more and nothing less. One thing that intrigues me is how the band never played this album live and from what I know this song has never been played live much despite it being a single. Did the vocals play a role in that?
The lyrics to this song are different than a lot of Duran lyrics up until this point. Usually, they have been either poetic or vague enough that a story is not created. These lyrics, on the other hand, feel exactly like a story where this woman is flirting hardcore with a “biker” who is a “metalhead.” Then, of course, the context is summer when “love takes over.” I am not a huge fan of the whole storyline thing as I much prefer to give my own interpretation unless the story could/does act as a metaphor to something else. That said, there are some lines that I just cannot help but sing, including, “Don’t give me drink, I don’t wanna get too stoned.” Who hasn’t said the exact same thing at some point or another?!
I cannot say that this is best quality Duran Duran song ever made. While I appreciate the fact that this song makes me want to sing along no matter what, I miss some more typical Duran elements. I wish that the lyrics weren’t so obvious, for example. On top of that, I missed the balanced instrumentation. It feels to me that the band worked really hard to create a feeling rather than just letting the process go where it may. What interests me is the fact that there are SO many remixes of this song on various releases. Why? Did they think that the remixes would help it sell? Yet, they did not tour the album. It all just makes me wonder what they were all thinking about.
The last winner was: Big Thing
Which album would you prefer to see/hear live in entirety: Medazzaland or Astronaut?
The last winner: The First Album
Which album would you prefer to see/hear live in entirety: Big Thing or the Wedding Album?
The last winner: All You Need Is Now
Which album would you prefer to see/hear live in entirety: 1st album or Seven and the Ragged Tiger?
It’s Monday, the first day of our self-imposed sabbatical, and I’m already breaking it. *takes bow*
I just missed you all so much….
Ok, so I missed out blogging on Thursday. I have a few things left to share before I go.
First of all, thank you – all of you – for the kind notes, pictures, thoughts, and good wishes for my birthday. I had a terrific day, which is half of the reason I didn’t post a blog. (Our internet was also down for a good portion of the day, so there’s also that.) It was a very special day, and I can’t thank you enough.
Second, I saw a movie over the weekend that I’d been curious about for a while, Yesterday. Simply put, what would happen in a world where no one remembered The Beatles?
The movie was cute, I suppose. There were also a zillion plot holes that really bothered me on most every level. The screenwriters seemed to take an insightful topic, and watered it down to be just another rom-com. The love story didn’t matter to me. I wanted to know more about the world without some key pieces of pop culture missing from the meta.
I thought a lot about what it means to love music so much that you want it to keep living. I’m 49 now, and many of the heroes I hold dear have left this earth. George Michael, Tom Petty, Ric Ocasek, Prince….I can go on and on, but you get the point. The music, at least for me, isn’t JUST about the people who wrote and performed it, although certainly that is huge. The music itself is what lives on. It is the gift left behind. The one thing we are able to hold on to once our heroes have passed. It’s food for thought, I suppose.
Lastly, I am reaching out to any and all interested writers! As you know, Amanda and I are taking a break from now through the end of the year. However, we are also going to try a different style of post during our absence. We need YOUR help to make it successful.
This post is going to be called “Change My Mind”. Essentially, Amanda and/or I will come up with a topic, and it will be up to you – should you choose to accept the challenge – to change our mind in 100 words or less! So, for example, maybe the topic is “Hungry Like the Wolf” is an overrated song. Your job would be to make a compelling (and incredibly short) argument! We already have two brilliant writers ready to get their fingers flying, but it would be great to have a few more. If you’re at all interested, email us at email@example.com. We’ll put you in touch with Jason, who will be the contact for this little game of ingenuity!
That’s more than enough from me for a while. I’m off to tackle real life for a while!
The last winner was: Astronaut
Which album would you prefer to see/hear live in entirety: All You Need Is Now or Paper Gods?