Tag Archives: 1980s music

Big Trashy Thing

No one cares, but this is their best by miles. – Robert Christgau

As much as I love and appreciate every word Robert Christgau has ever written on music, he has never been a fan of my favorite bands. The Big Three for me as I turned 13 were Duran Duran, Howard Jones, and Thompson Twins. It wasn’t until 1989, well after their commercial peaks, when he gave one of them a B+ using his school-grade methodology. For those wondering, a B+ from Christgau equals “a good record, at least one of whose sides can be played with lasting interest and the other of which includes at least one enjoyable cut.” You’re telling me Rio isn’t at least a B+? Dude. 

Moving on. According to Christgau, the first “good” album from my Big Three artists was Big Trash by Thompson Twins. And it is, at least, a “good” album. In fact, it is arguably their best album but anyone claiming to love it more than Into The Gap has put too many shots of hipster in their chai latte. Then it occurred to me that another one of my favorite bands had released a “Big” album six months earlier. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Big Trash and Big Thing have a lot on common.

I recognize that I am assuming a certain level of awareness of Thompson Twins beyond the basic MTV stuff but the Daily Duranie audience knows music. However, I don’t blame you if you lost sight of Thompson Twins after Live Aid; most folks did. In a lot of ways, the Twins were on a similar trajectory to Duran Duran after Live Aid. Both lost band members before working on their next album and the resulting albums were more subdued, less colorful affairs. 

Earlier I mentioned the six-month gap between Big Thing (October ’88) and Big Trash (March ’89). Oddly enough, each band’s preceding album had a similar gap with Notorious (November ’86) arriving seven months before Close To the Bone (March ’87) As the decade traded “greed is good” for “feed the world”, both bands had to adapt their image and the albums reflected a more informed, mature take on the styles that made them successful. From Duran’s undeniably sexy funk of “Skin Trade” to the buoyant acoustic guitar of the Twin’s “Get That Love”, both albums showed musical growth and were able to slow the erosion of casual fans suddenly enamored with Jon Bon Jovi’s abs.

Two years later, the band’s went even further with their most experimental albums of the decade. Thompson Twins’ Big Trash turned up the guitars and the rhythm. “Bombers In the Sky” rocks harder than anything they ever did and “Sugar Daddy” showed they still had plenty of sweet hooks left in their Halloween bag. Sound familiar? Big Thing also finds a way to rock without taking you off the dance floor. 

Why weren’t Trash and Thing bigger? As a fan of both bands, these albums were strong artistic statements – hell, Christgau gave a rare B+ to a, as he loved to call them, anglo-disco group! Of the two, I get the most animated about Big Thing. There should have been four hit singles on that album not counting “Palomino” which belongs in the same special corner where us fans love to keep “The Chauffeur”. The band’s amped-up funk (“I Don’t Want Your Love”), post-punk despair (“Do You Believe In Shame?”), electro-pop (“All She Wants Is”), and command of atmosphere (“Too Late Marlene”) are all memorable examples of Duran Duran’s unique alchemy. Had Christgau given it a listen, I dare say that he might have conceded an A- for the effort. 

After their “Big” albums, both bands went through a bit of an identity crisis while trying to find the right sound for a new decade. Thompson Twins dove into the rave culture with 1991’s Queer while Duran opted to throw a bit of everything against the wall in hopes of something would stick. Hey, that’s their liberty. Evaluating those albums is best left to another day; if only to prove Christgau wrong. Someone does care. 

You Walk the Line

Yesterday, I came across a short article from tvovermind.com, titled “Five 80s Bands We Really Want to Make a Comeback”

Naturally, I had to click on it.

It turns out, and you may want to sit down before reading on, because it is certainly a shock…but Duran Duran is one of the 80s bands they want to make a comeback.

Now I can see the big idea

Strange things happen overnight. An article that had originally been worded with a vague reference to an MIA fan base was reformed. Now it’s not a “knock on Duran Duran.” It’s the opposite, so the article states. They’re just interested in a “certain type of music to be more prevalent”. Yesterday, comments about personnel changes and setbacks took the lead. Today, the blurb was edited so that the reader might understand that Duran Duran has taken their knocks along the way. But hey, they’re still thriving.

Well, there’s something I agree with!

Duran Duran IS thriving.

However, the writer wants the band to go back to their 80s roots, claiming that we’d all love them more.

Would we, though?

An empire in a day

I say again, it is 2019. Do we really want Duran Duran to go back to playing the same old, same old – or do we want this band to continue to challenge themselves as well as their listeners? I would argue that to continue writing music circa-1985 would be the easy way out. I also think we’d all be incredibly bored by now. I’ll just say it myself: I would be so bored!!

No, I haven’t fallen deeply in love with every single thing the band has ever done. I do; however, have a deep appreciation and respect for the course the band has taken to get to this point right here and now. As I tell my own children—sometimes, you have to fall, in order to get back up again.

Duran Duran isn’t the same band that they were back in 1985. Then again, it isn’t still 1985. A good many things have changed since then. Even the music industry itself has changed! Music doesn’t sell the same way, bands can’t market themselves with a glossy, lacquered video and expect the money to roll on in. This band, or any band for that matter, cannot simply turn back the dial to 1985 in order to hear their name roll swiftly off the lips of all who inhabit Planet Earth again. I’m not even sure I wish that as a possibility.

Out of range, but in time

As I complained openly on Twitter yesterday, I’m tired of reading about the hopes of a comeback. During the past 19 years, Duran Duran has released five albums (thank you to C.K. for reminding me that Pop Trash came out in 2000….five lashes to me for leaving that out!), and Paper Gods even sat in the top ten. That doesn’t sound like a band that needs to make a comeback at all. They’ve been bringing it the entire time! Where have YOU been?

While the band itself might be unfazed by such articles, and perhaps might even secretly enjoy seeing them because it puts them in the position of looking like they are constantly fighting—I specifically took issue because the original unedited piece made it seem as though the fans have been somewhat MIA.

I don’t know about you all, but I haven’t gone anywhere. I’m not done yet. Are you?

-R



What is definitive Duran Duran?

Happy Wednesday! I’m sorry for my unexpected absence yesterday. We were having carpeting installed, and we had to disconnect the octopus of wires behind a desk. Unfortunately, that also disconnected our WiFi and disrupted our internet connection until it was far too late in the day for blogging.

I’m also late today, because of a meaningful, deep, philosophical discussion regarding the merits of the song “Drive By”.

Only a fellow Duran fan understands enough to talk about the space a specific song or album occupies. It is rare to find someone who understands and is able to relate such a song to the bigger picture is a gift.

The conversation was simply about why I believe “Drive By” is a definitive Duran Duran song of the Simon-Nick-John-Warren period. Actually, I think its one of the more definitive songs of their career. “Drive By” is definitive of their career during the mid-90s, but does it’s statement go even farther than that?

Let’s consider the period of time. John, Simon, Nick and Warren were defining themselves as another iteration of Duran Duran. This was an era of rediscovery, reinvention, and to some extent – forgetting who and what they once were (as a group). So “Drive By”, a deconstructed, even “now separated, once-conjoined twin” of “The Chauffeur”, is a spectacular example of this period of Duran’s career.

I can point to the cover of “Medazzaland” as another example, granted in a slightly different period. The graffiti-laden image of “Rio” weighs heavily in my mind. I often wonder if they weren’t really trying to bury that bright and glossy 80s magazine pin-up image of the fab five. Let’s face it, there was quite a bit to run from at that point. Maybe they were really over the idea of fans swarming their limos, even if by necessity. Perhaps they were anxious to be accepted as serious musicians. Maybe they were  over being the pin-up dreams of fresh-faced, dewy-eyed teenage girls?  Maybe they saw this new iteration of Duran Duran as being the “anti”1980s Duran Duran?  It isn’t difficult to imagine what they might have been thinking of when picking a cover for “Medazzaland”.

Rather than examining the song, or any one song, under the Duran Duran microscope, lately I’ve been thinking about the broader context. I’ve considered the changes in their sound over the years,  such as the rearranged, heavy jazz sounding brass and horn version of “Hungry Like the Wolf” or “Burning the Ground” – the remix to put a final period on 80s era Duran Duran.  I’ve pondered the more obvious, recent style changes, like the full, production-heavy pop sound on Astronaut compared to the deep urban groove of Red Carpet Massacre, or retro sounding All You Need is Now, along with Paper Gods.  Individually, each seeming to be a stroll down a different musical lane, but collectively – what do they really say about this band?

To some extent, I tend to believe the band has spent a great deal of time and energy running from what they (and critics) believed they were in 1984. We can say they’re not comfortable sitting upon their laurels, and we can claim that they are not easily satiated, creativity speaking, and I don’t think we’d be wrong. However,  I don’t think it hurts anyone to examine the deeper motivation of what might drive them.

Recently, during the BBC takeover night of DD television a couple of weeks back, John admitted that the critical comments from music journalists back in the day have bothered him up until very recently. This was not a surprise to me, other than being shocked at his utterance of the words out loud for all to hear. Amanda and I have been talking about that for years now – we’ve written about it many times on the blog, and I think we both cheered when we heard John say the words. Of course it bothered them. I get it! I very much appreciate his honesty and vulnerability. Accepting, and even respecting that one nugget of truth gave me such a different perspective on their career. It is like finally having the big picture come into focus. I just love them.

This is a band with an image based on the proverbial double-edged sword. On one side, they were incredibly successful because they appealed to teenage girls. They never said no to being the – poster boys of the 1980’s. In fact, they welcomed it, and we welcomed them! On the other side of that sword though, somewhere down deep, they secretly aspired to reach the recognition, acclaim and respect that comes from critics and other musicians. Screaming girls are wonderful, but perhaps having respect mattered too. Could we really blame them?

That isn’t to say the band’s career has been a giant folly, or that they were wrong to explore. Not in the least, and I want to be clear on that. In my mind, the fans are the ones who have made out the best on this deal. This band is still hungry. They are still in search of whatever is out there. With each new album comes a newly discovered Duran Duran. I just happen to believe the motivation to do so comes from something a bit more definitive.

-R