Step Into My Flame: Reflecting On Arcadia

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?  (ed note: David appeared on “The Promise”. Our apologies for not getting this correct the first time.) 
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.    

8 thoughts on “Step Into My Flame: Reflecting On Arcadia”

  1. Hello! Very well written blog post. It sure does say a lot of what I also think about Arcadia and Duran Duran around the 81-85 period. We also have similar tastes in Duran music! My favorite albums are:

    All You Need is Now
    So Red the Rose

    And why is this? Well, like you, Duran Duran for me starts with Nick’s synths and ends with Simon’s voice. Everything else, while for the most part being great, are not the essence of duran’s music. Their music to me always signified Lush, Exotic, Exciting, Dreamy, etc, etc. I think you get the point. 

    So Red The Rose is the counterpart to Rio and a final goodbye to the Exotic part of early Duran. From 85 on exotic would almost disappear from their albums as the essence, only coming out in individual tracks like Palomino, All she Wants is and a few others along their journey through the 90’s and early 2000’s. All that changed with AYNIN, of course. From Mediterranea to The Man who Stole a Leopard, exotic is in the essence again. 

    I'm glad they found their essence again, after all those years. And on a final note, I would also like to state that So Red the Rose is integral part of their discography, I don't listen to it as being a side project, I look at it as being a Duran album that was not created but the original five elements, but by three of the original elements and that doesn't diminish it, au contraire, it strengthens the album (sorry John and Andy ;). 

    Again, congratulations on a wonderful blog post!

  2. I really liked this blog – I think we had similar reactions to Arcadia, music-wise. Though in the 80s I couldn't afford to buy everything and had this on cassette made for me by a French friend whose favourite track was Goodbye is Forever. However, he'd taped the sides in the wrong order without me realising, and I always think the album starts with The Promise. Only heard Say the Word for the first time this summer when I bought the rereleased special edition. I'm very much a fan of the Simon & Nick stuff over the Power Station and rockier tracks by DD, though I have grown to appreciate JT & Rog more and more as the years have gone on. Huge fan of Sting & Simon singing together – I think Sting has one of those voices which can blend with anyone (I adore his duet with Craig David on Rise and Fall) but I've always felt it goes especially well with Simon's. I also watched the Arcadia videos for the first time this summer – hilarious and very well worth seeking out if anyone hasn't seen them! I liked The Devils a lot, but still haven't felt the urge to pick up the Power Station album… Anyway, So Red The Rose rocks – standout track for me: The Promise.

  3. I don't think you're crazy. I think Arcadia is a brilliant album, it's so unique and interesting. It sounds amazing, the lyrics are amazing, Simon's singing on it is amazing. And I have to agree, for me Simon and Nick are really what is central to the Duran sound, you can stick any guitar and bass with them and IMO it still sounds like Duran Duran basically.

    I think I love The Promise or Missing the best. Both are so beautiful, but I love Lady Ice too. And you know what, Election Day was really wonderfully weird, it's amazing the stuff that could get played on radio in the mid-80's, in that way it reminds me of Union of the Snake – it, like Union of the Snake, was really like none of the other hits out there, also wonderfully weirdly unique.

  4. So Red the Rose is one of my favorite albums of all times. i wore out (literally) 3 copies of the tape and though they say a CD lasts forever, i'm on my 2nd copy of that (not counting the remastered special edition).

    perhaps it's because i'm a bit pretentious myself, but i think it's one of the few perfect albums from start to finish. there's not a track i skip, ever, though i do agree with you about Grace Jones on Election Day. i did go buy the Playing For Keeps soundtrack just for Say the Word; don't know if i could name any other song on it. and if i was ever at risk for damaging my hearing, it would be due to the number of times i played the Promise at full volume on my walkman. Sting + SLB = magic.

    my adoration for Arcadia did leave me conflicted for a long time because i was a John girl (and then an Andy girl) so i felt almost obligated to prefer Power Station. funny how we Duranies compartmentalize ourselves, like they would chastise us and revoke our right to call ourselves FAN if we didn't pick the right side project. i know Duranies care WAY more about allegiances than the band does and we allow that to divide us. silly.

    i have to say, CK, that when i've read your comments and now your blog, i typically agree with you. we differ greatly on Medazzaland but that aside, my Mt.Rushmore looks like your Mt.Rushmore. well done.

  5. C.K. Shortell contacted us, asking if we could post the following for him (Drat those nasty work “Firewalls”…don't they know Daily Duranie is important?!?)

    “First, I want to thank Rhonda and Amanda for the opportunity to write this guest blog. Also wanted to acknowledge and respond to the comments:

    To Anonymous (first commenter): Thank you for the kinds words, and I agree completely about the “exotic” nature of SRTR! And while I’m not the biggest fan of “Leopard,” I wholeheartedly applaud the band for writing a song like that—it’s artsy and it’s a risk they didn’t take on either of the first two post-reunion albums.

    To Byrony: That is too funny about the tracks being out of order! I think song placement is so critical to how you experience an album—or at least it was in the pre-CD, pre-MP3 days. So your experience of SRTR is certainly unique! And you post reminded me that I neglected to mention the videos! I love the Arcadia videos, even though Roger is missing (pun intended—although is he in Election Day? I can’t recall. I know he's not in the others). The Promise is indeed a wonderful track…thank you for your comments!

    To Anonymous (third commenter): Yes, it’s crazy to think about a song like “Election Day” getting mainstream radio play today…and that’s a great comparison to “Union of the Snake!” Your post prompted me to remember that I actually neglected to mention 2 of my favorite tracks: Keep Me in the Dark and El Diablo. Like the rest of the album, they were “brilliant” and “weirdly unique”! Anyway, glad to hear that I’m not alone in my affection for SRTR!

    To Drunken Beauty: I remember buying Playing for Keeps and actually liking the entire cassette. It had a Peter Frampton song…and 1 or 2 other tracks that were decent…Say the Word was in the middle of the B side, if memory serves, and of course I would usually just fast forward to get to it…You are right that we shouldn’t get caught up in allegiances! There is so much in the catalogue for all of us and I view the changing lineups over the years as making the band stronger, not weaker. Thank you for your kind words…regarding Medazzaland, I think after a few drinks you’ll find that it sounds great! (It takes me at least 3 shots to get through Silva Halo.) “

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