Yes, you read that title right. We are not only doing another review but we are finally moving on to the second album and to the title track of Rio. Let’s applaud the fact that we’re finally onto Rio! Obviously, this song is an interesting one to review as it has become so commonplace, so iconic both for the band and their fans. Nonetheless, we attempted to take a step back to really think about the quality of this song.
Musicality/Instrumentation: What song is really more iconic of the 80s than this one? Even non-fans know this song, if not from the moment they hear the wave of sound that begins the song, then most certainly from the moment you hear Roger’s drums at about 18 seconds in. I know I’m not the only person to recognize how fantastic John’s bass line is in this song – I love the fact that it wasn’t enough just to play a simplistic bass line, he went for interest, and it’s adds just the right touch of drama. To me, Rio is a well-layered song, and if you listen to each layer as I’ve just done, you realize that each layer, from Nick’s synth loops and chords to John’s bass, Andy’s guitar, Roger’s drums and finally Simon’s voice nearly plays as a melody on their own. Yet we’ve got this complicated, layered song and when it comes together – it’s simple, light and fun – and extraordinarily written. I liken the musicality to the personality of the band itself. Upon first glance, the song seems simple and fun. When you get past that, you can hear the differences, the give and take, and the complications contained within.Then this saxophone cuts through all the red tape, and gives this fantastic solo that brings it all back to basics….it’s a fantastic juxtaposition to the rest of the song and does exactly what a solo should. When you take this song and position it side by side with the songs on the first album; however, it is clear that the band took a big departure from the dark, slightly punk-like sounds on the first album, creating a much more complex style of music.
Voice: Simon’s vocals on this song are spot on. I appreciate that his voice is clear, harmonious and in-tune (it’s the little things!) There is a difference between his voice on this album and on the first – it’s not something I can really put my finger on, but I will say that I think it’s on this album that we get that first listen of what becomes Duran’s iconic vocal sound. Simon’s voice doesn’t have that same dark vocal quality it did on the first, but to be fair I wouldn’t expect it here and in fact it would not work with Rio. This is the voice we’ve grown to know and expect over the years, and even today it’s comforting to hear him. It’s funny that I can hear the band live many, many times, but it’s when I sit down and truly just listen – I appreciate Simon’s beautiful voice. Amanda and I have always been careful to say that it takes all five members to make up the band, and we feel that not one should be more or less important than anyone else – but Simon’s voice is incredibly unique and I’m glad he’s the lead singer – I can’t imagine it any other way.
Lyrics: I love the lyrics on this song. No, they might not be incredibly poetic, but I don’t think they are lyrics that make you feel good, and to be honest I think it’s one reason the band had such a huge hit with this one. When people listen to this, I don’t think many stop to consider what Simon is going on about. Most people I know think it’s really about a woman. Others say it’s clearly about the United States. I really don’t care one way or another – to me, this song encapsulates my middle-school years in the 1980’s. It is a song that has grown beyond it’s own boundaries at this point. But really, what *does* Simon mean when he says “You know you’re something special and you look like you’re the best”?? What about “When she shines, she shows you all she can”?? I guess for me personally, I think about being a fan here in the states…(but to be fair it’s because every time I hear this song I can’t help but think about all of us standing up and clapping along with Simon – it feels like SUCH a triumphant song at the end of a show) I know I should be going for the hard-hitting poetic meanings here, but the fact is, this song is about so much more than JUST the original meanings at this point, I wouldn’t be doing it justice to attempt to pick it apart.
Production: When I think of good production, this is really the song I consider. There is a little more splash and finery put into this one than the last album – I can definitely hear the evidence of a larger recording budget here – and it’s not nearly as simplistic, but there is still balance. I can hear every instrument, and I think, at least for this song, there’s not much in the way of ego showing. Yet. That said, there is a marked change from the incredibly simple production on the first album. You can’t help but notice the difference, and yet when I ask people who are not fans to name a Duran Duran song, this is easily the first or second song mentioned. It’s what people know, and it’s the sound and production quality that people expect. While I still adore the rawness of the first album – I completely appreciate the polish that comes with this song. The elements of Simon’s harmonization, the more complicated synth loops and the layering – I think these are all things that I can attribute to Colin Thurston’s production, and they are elements that the band has since tried to keep in one fashion or another, and we can thank Colin for that. These elements, along with many others contribute to what we know to be the Duran “sound” no matter whether the music is funky, in a groove, disco or old-school Duran.
Overall: I mistakenly thought that reviewing Rio would be a cake-walk. Ha! It’s not easy to review something you’ve heard literally thousands of times at this point, and listen with new ears. There is so much in this song that I have heard so often I take for granted. I have much learning to do with regard to reviewing, but it is good exercise, both for my writing as well as my listening. The fact is, Rio is iconic, like it or not. When we go to a Duran show, we expect to hear it. When we are listening to a flashback 80s weekend, it’s blasphemous not to hear it played, and for many people out there – Duran Duran IS Rio. Or vice-versa. The song has come to mean more than it was originally intended, and if the band was hoping to shake this song from themselves and get away from the nostalgia….I’m sorry, but it’s not going to happen. Better to embrace the space they clearly own, and be happy. For me, this song feels like pure joy. Pop. Triumph. Fandom…in every sense. I think this is the song that gets everyone, fan and not-quite-big-fan alike up and dancing, and with good reason. There are not many songs that reach the status that Rio has somehow achieved – it’s the song that marks a decade, and I think it will be the song that my grandchildren will hear and think of their long-since-gone grandma and her crazy concert-going days. (because by then I am sure my children will make the stories out to be that of family legend…) How can that be bad??
Cocktail Rating: 4.5 cocktails!!
Musicality/Instrumentation: As the introduction to this review stated, this song is a tough one to really review. As I started my part, I did what I always do, which is to listen and re-listen to the song to refresh my memory, pay attention to the nuances and really get a feel for all aspects of the song. For this song, it was hard for me to do as I kept thinking about how WELL I know the song and how I didn’t need to listen to the song again. Yet, I’m glad that I did. Of course, the song opens with that slow building up wave of sound that has Nick Rhodes all over it that we ALL recognize in an instant. It truly is a great way to begin a song and an album. Then, of course, the well-known instruments show up in full force with John’s bass and Roger’s drums forming the foundation with that Andy Taylor guitar on top. Of course, one of the things that makes the song special, musically, is all of the musical changes that transpire, including the noticeable transition from verses to chorus. The most important transition is that part of the song that features a sax solo with that underlying but important bass line. I can’t think of many songs that feature a sax solo like this, especially in pop songs from 1982. It seemed and still seems very brave of the band to include instrumentation such as that. This shows that the band had really shifted away from the basic instruments of punk rock to a much more sophisticated style.
Voice: Simon’s vocals are definitely different in this song than the first album. On one hand, they seem more polished, smoother. The chorus, in particular, really shows off Simon’s skills. Perhaps, there was more focus spent of Simon’s vocals in the studio for this album over the first album. These vocals are the vocals that we are the most used to. They are not the deep, raw vocals of songs like Friends of Mine or Sound of Thunder. It feels to me that the first album’s vocals represented more of that post punk vibe that was definitely around in 1980/1981 whereas these vocals are more much pop friendly and represent more of the expected sound of what is thought of when people say and describe the 1980s.
Lyrics: While I wouldn’t say that the lyrics to Rio are Simon’s most poetic lyrics, by any stretch of the imagination, there is something special about the lyrics. On the surface, they appear to be feel good lyrics about a woman named Rio and how she makes Simon feel “alive”. Yet, this “woman” could represent something completely different, especially as the pronoun “she” is used to describe everything from cars to countries. In this way, of course, I can’t help but to think of a recent song like, The Man Who Stole a Leopard, which does the exact same thing. There are many within the fandom that believe this song is exactly what it appears to be, about a woman, and there are others who believe it to be about America, especially with references to North American geography like the Rio Grande river, which forms the natural boundary between the state of Texas and the country of Mexico. In the end, the meaning doesn’t matter as the mood the lyrics work to create is the same. The listener feels just like Simon does. The listener feels like it (whatever it is) means as much as a “birthday or a pretty view” and that it looks like it’s the best because it does make you feel “alive, alive, alive”. Here is where the beauty of the lyrics lie. It works so well to create this mood that it completely overtakes the listener, which is also why it is such a great song to end a concert with! (On a side note, I always feel like giving Simon an A grade for his wonderful use of alliteration!)
Production: What amazes me as I listen to Rio is how clear it is from the first 30 seconds of this song that this album is very different from the first. This fascinates me since it is the same band, same producer and not that much time had passed between the two releases. On one hand, the production still shows instrumentation that is essential Duran Duran. For example, Andy’s guitars are clear to pick out. Yet, the song has a much more polished feel. Is that due to production? I think there were things that were done in the studio to create this. For example, Simon’s vocals were different. I can only think this is how Colin directed them and how the songs were mixed to emphasize elements like Simon’s ability to harmonize.
Overall: Rio, the song, is well-put together. Do I think it is the best Duran song? No, but I do think it represents a time period well and shows Duran’s ability to create that fun, feel good mood. The lyrics combined with the upbeat instrumentation has the ability to make everyone get up and dance. It is definitely catchy and stays with you long after listening. Again, these elements make it an ideal song to end a concert with! It leaves you with a smile on your face while still clapping along in excitement.
Cocktail Rating: 4 cocktails!