By C.K. Shortell
I could walk into a room full of Duran fans and incite a riot with any number of comments. I could pick on Andy or Warren, as each has a dedicated following; I could shout out that Red Carpet Massacre is actually one of their best albums (don’t worry—I don’t think that—but confess to loving half of it); I could say they were better off with Sterling Campbell than Roger…(well maybe that’s just bordering on the absurd…)….I could say that if Dom were the guitarist from the get-go, Duran would have more hits and more stability and would be rightfully enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and routinely performing the halftime show at the Super Bowl (okay, now I’m just blatantly kissing up to the management of this blog)…anyway, I think we DD fans are an easy group to get riled up, on any number of topics.
However, I’m not here to do that today. I don’t think I will, anyway—we shall see. Rather, I’m curious about what the readers of Daily Duranie feel about one of the band’s most famous and successful side projects: Arcadia. My general sense of the fan community’s attitude to the album is that, in context, it was a relief to know that Simon/Nick and (sort of) Roger were “doing something” while Andy and John were off with Robert Palmer and The Power Station. Thus it was nice, in 1985, to hear Simon’s voice on a song on the radio while “Some Like It Hot” and “Bang a Gong” were being played nonstop, and John and Andy were jamming out in front of toilets and scantily clad women on MTV.
I also think there is a segment of the fan base that treated So Red the Rose as Duran’s fourth studio album—listened to it over and over again, poured over the artwork and lyrics that accompanied the vinyl and/or cassette release, watched for the videos on MTV like a hawk. I count myself among this group—I absolutely love the album. But is loving Arcadia akin to, say, also loving Medazzaland or Pop Trash (count me guilty there too)? For the most part, I think the current Duran fan base dismisses those albums, which his fine—to each his or her own. Or is my affection (obsession?) with So Red the Rose more widespread and shared among the fans?
I am not a musician so, at least consciously, I can’t claim to know or be attached to Andy’s guitar style or John’s style as a bass player, etc. For me, Duran Duran begins and ends with two elements: Simon’s voice and Nick’s synths. So I guess it’s logical, given that perspective, that I gravitated toward Arcadia.
I scanned the past blogs and comments on Daily Duranie to see what people said about the project. Amanda’s blog on October 12 of last year addressed the question of why some of the later side projects were not as popular among the fans as Arcadia and Power Station. Two replies to that blog cited the fact that other projects like The Devils and JT’s solo albums weren’t their style of music, while Arcadia was “amazing” (wrote Joel) and “a great vehicle” (Jetrell69) for Nick/Simon and “Roger’s drum machine.” (LOL-and I don’t use that term loosely!).
But not everyone loved So Red the Rose. In response to another blog that month (on October 23, the anniversary of the release of Notorious), Heather Todd wrote that, “Arcadia went down a road I wasn’t interested in taking. I wanted more Wild Boys!” I can relate to that point of view. Let’s face it—Arcadia was weird. Even I, as a devotee of the album, can say that. It had odd artwork, all those numbers, the guys with their black hair, the Grace Jones spoken word portion that is the only thing I don’t like about “Election Day,” and all those six and seven minute songs on the second side…it certainly was a far cry from tight, pop-oriented “Seven and the Ragged Tiger.” It was Nick unleashed, unbridled.
At the time, and for many years later, I viewed Arcadia as Duran’s second best album. I know that statement is fraught with controversy on multiple levels…but it simply reflected how I felt. I even grouped the Arcadia cassette with the Duran Duran ones, always slipping it in between Arena and Notorious, in its proper chronological place. Why did I like it so much? I thought it was extremely catchy. I loved the diversity—if you wanted guitar, you listened to The Flame; if you wanted a pop song, you listened to Election Day; if you wanted to be absolutely depressed and sad, you listened to Missing; if you wanted powerful songs with a message, you listened to Goodbye is Forever and The Promise.
So Red the Rose had the “meat” and depth to it that Seven and the Ragged Tiger (SATRT) lacked. It was like a bizarro, alternate universe counterpart to Rio—darkly mirroring it in everything from the artwork to the running order. (Yes, Lady Ice is Simon’s first of many pseudo-Chauffeur songs and probably my favorite.) And it did represent a return to that “darkness” that harkened back to the first album. I remember listening to the second side of Duran Duran and creating all of these dark videos in my head, and the second side of So Red the Rose evoked a similar response. (Rio does that too, although I think that’s as much about the videos as it is the songs themselves, e.g. I’m not sure I would associate Save a Prayer with running on the beach if I had never seen the video).
It was weird, dark, moody and gray…but it was also cool. How great was it to hear Sting and Simon sing on a song that wasn’t “Do they know it’s Christmas?”? Or David Gilmour’s killer guitar on The Flame?
I listened to So Red the Rose over and over again in 1985 and 1986. The only thing that tore me away was getting Notorious for Christmas in 1986 (I was 14—too young to drive and get it on release day!). But in 1987, I purchased the Playing for Keeps soundtrack because it included “Say the Word,” the lone b-side from Arcadia (remixes notwithstanding). I loved “Say the Word” but was glad it wasn’t on So Red the Rose—in much the same way that I love Secret Oktober but was glad it wasn’t on SATRT—it just functioned better outside the album.
So, over a quarter century after its release, where do I rank So Red the Rose? I would say it’s in the upper tier of Duran albums. Off the top of my head, I probably like it better than anything after 1990 with the exception of Medazzaland and AYNIN; I’d say it’s on my Mt. Rushmore of Duran albums: Rio, the first album, AYNIN, Notorious, and Medazzaland. (My Mt. Rushmore has six faces!).
Jetrell69 had also commented that, “I had hoped we’d see another Arcadia release.” I recall The Devils album being billed as such in 2002, which of course led me to be very disappointed in it. The closest we’ve come to an Arcadia follow-up is likely Medazzaland. Musically, maybe I’m way off with that comparison, but it seems to be the most similar in style and tone to So Red the Rose.
You’ll notice that I did not get into an Arcadia vs. Power Station analysis. I avoided this for several reasons. For starters, I never even bought The Power Station album until 1990. I simply had no interest in it before then. Admittedly, I loved it, and that I think the ’96 follow-up, Living in Fear, is excellent and I still listen to that on occasion.
However, to me, Arcadia is unique among all Duran side projects because of Simon’s voice. I would no more compare Arcadia to The Power Station then I would Arcadia to any other band—it’s apples and oranges. Maybe that’s a topic for another blog or poll question…but not today.
I’m curious what you think. Am I overrating Arcadia? Is it truly “the most pretentious album of the decade” as Simon called it? Or do you view it as I do, as the dark companion to those early, classic Duran albums, and the bridge from the “original lineup era” to what followed? Don’t keep us in the dark…comment below!!!
C.K. Shortell is a lifelong Duran Duran fan who lives in the northeast with his wife and two sons, both of whom love watching concert footage of the band. When he’s not struggling to explain to a three year old why the guitarist always looks different or just what exactly Nick is doing, C.K. is constantly reminding co-workers and friends that the band never broke up.