Rebel Rebels – David Bowie & Duran Duran

By now, everyone has heard Duran Duran’s cover of David Bowie’s iconic song “Five Years” which they released on his birthday – only two days before the five year anniversary of his passing. Released in conjunction with the Just For One Day virtual tribute show over the weekend, the band delivered a fitting tribute to one of their biggest influences. In doing so, the band also added to their own legacy as one of the most important bands to come out of the UK pop scene which Bowie inspired.

Choosing the lead track from one of the most important albums in the rock-n-roll canon takes confidence. Opening the classic Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, “Five Years” sets the narrative for Bowie’s story of Ziggy coming to earth to save the planet from an impending apocalypse in five years time. It reminded me of Duran Duran’s declaration all those years ago that they wanted to be the band we danced to when the bomb dropped. Well, here we are, facing extinction within the song “Five Years” and Duran Duran, just for one day, have become the Spiders from Mars.

Trying to re-create Mick Woodmansey’s drumming on “Five Years” would instantly handcuff any cover. The sound of Trident Studio in London (which was bought by Andy Taylor at one point!) as well as his timing are perfectly etched into the sonic universe. Duran Duran bringing an electronic pulse to the track not only allows for new textures, it slyly hints at the band’s own legacy in how it echoes “The Chauffeur”. If, and when, the band tours, I hope they build this up and allow Roger to add acoustic drums that grow in power to match the intensity of the song.

Another unique piece to Duran Duran’s cover is the work of Mike Garson who played with them in the virtual festival. Joining Bowie in 1973 for Aladdin Sane, Garson does not play on the original but his avant-garde style adds an unsettling vibe to the song which fits the unfolding narrative. With him on the track, Nick Rhodes is able to focus on what he does best and the song’s atmosphere ebbs and flows under his fingers.

One final word on the cover itself, this isn’t a song Duran Duran could have pulled off in their youth or even twenty years ago. Simon LeBon finds a way to deliver the lyrics with conviction and power. This will go down as one of the best recorded vocals in the band’s history and whets our appetite for what the new album might bring us. It also makes me wonder if Thank You II – Songs From the Starman might be a project worthy of consideration by the band. From “Fame” to “Five Years”, the band has nailed every Bowie cover they have done which is not something we can say about some of their other cover songs.

For fans of Duran Duran who might know David Bowie’s music on a more casual level, I hope “Five Years” inspires a deeper dive. Everything Duran Duran has ever done can be traced back to something in David Bowie’s catalogue. He was a pioneer in so many ways and bands like Duran Duran used his vision to take popular music forward in colorful directions. Each year, the world misses him a little more but the cover songs and tribute shows help us remember all the joy his music has brought as well. This year was especially moving given how hard 2020 was so thank you to all the musicians from Duran Duran to the always exciting Yungblud for sharing their Bowie songs with us.

Comments

  1. Great review, Jason. I listened to this song a few times – I’m not quite as enamored with it as others are, I must admit. In saying that, I’m not suggesting that DD did not do the original justice. The opposite, actually. I think they took the original and elevated the melancholy, monotone, and monochrome “gray” to the heavens, infusing the sound with brightness, a rainbow of color, dynamic vocals, and hope.

    The reality is, I have never really been a Bowie fan. I appreciate that his sound and career influenced Duran’s, but listening to Bowie has never ignited my ears or heart in the same way listening to Japan, Roxy Music, Chic, or yes, even Duran Duran, has done for me. So, that’s where I sit with this song. It is good, but it doesn’t light my heart on fire. I will also admit that I told Amanda that the song is boring. This is less about Duran Duran, and more about my own personal music taste, though.

    Despite my lack of enthusiasm, Duran Duran’s version has been modernized, and much improved in so many ways. I love the production on this one. The one thing Duran Duran has done most recently that I appreciate, is allowing for space in the music. There are quiet moments in their production, and I like the “less is more” delicate approach.

    If I had reviewed it, I would have made two points. The first being a blatant lack of guitar. Even Bowie used a guitar on the track, although I think like Mike Garson’s piano on the DD cover, it was reserved mainly for the background. The second is less of a critique and more something I noted. The song plays more like a solo moment for Simon, and less like a Duran Duran record. Perhaps showcasing the vocals and piano was really the key. The effect wasn’t lost on me, but I have found myself saying, “Okay, I’m done with that one. What’s next?” I miss this band and what they each bring to the table when recording. I don’t necessarily think that this cover is the best example of what they can collectively do—for their OWN written music, that is— and I look forward to hearing what they’re going to share next!

    -R

  2. I finally listened to this song- I must say that Simon’s voice was possibly the best I’ve heard, and I just closed my eyes and listened. But like you, sadly I’m not a huge Bowie fan. I want to be. He is such a influence for my favorite band how can I not love him? I think the band must have done a good job, the care and love they put into this was evident .But I was hyper aware that despite the beauty of Simon’s voice, I did not feel like I was listening to Duran. Which is confusing for me because I didn’t hate it. guess I just want to hear them do their own music. I will say this was like an amuse bouche for my ears.

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