Listening to Paper Gods, I am struck by how strongly the album ends. Has any Duran Duran album closed with a stronger trio of songs than Butterfly Girl, Only in Dreams, and The Universe Alone? Very few, when I actually sat down and thought about it. Why does it matter? Duran Duran album sequencing provides insight into how the band views their own material. Sure, Simon will say he can no more compare the songs to his children and avoid picking favorites, but the running order does not lie. A band is not going to bury their favorite song in the middle of an album.
Let’s look at Duran Duran album sequencing through the back catalog and see where Paper Gods stacks up. As usual, these rankings reflect my opinion and not those of Daily Duranie, Simon Willescroft, Rob Sheffield, Georgie Davies, or the man who stole a leopard (is he still in prison? Maybe he got out for good behavior?)
Tier One: My favorites
Duran Duran: Sound of Thunder/Friends of Mine/Tel Aviv
The gold standard. Admittedly, these songs don’t just end the album, they represent nearly half of it since there were only 9 tracks to begin with. But I’m going to stick with my 3 song criteria to be consistent. Tel Aviv is my favorite “instrumental” in the band’s catalogue, even though it does have vocals. Friends of Mine and Sound of Thunder are classic Duran songs that have stood the test of time.
Paper Gods: Butterfly Girl/Only in Dreams/The Universe Alone
Yes, after going through the entire catalogue, I think we have the 2nd best ending to a Duran album. Butterfly Girl could be a single; it’s fast-paced, funky fun. If Notorious and Runway Runaway had a child, it would be Butterfly Girl. Then, we get the two funk ballads to close things out. (I don’t know what else to call them). I am a fan of the power ballads like What are the Chances, but I can only handle so many of those. I think Duran struck the right balance with Only in Dreams and The Universe Alone, building the synths and orchestral beginnings around the funky core of each song. It’s a really powerful way to end the album.
Medazzaland: Midnight Sun/So Long Suicide/Undergoing Treatment
Blasphemy, to rank this album’s ending so high! What can I say? I love all three songs. Undergoing Treatment has one of the more clever Duran lyrics and its funky acoustic vibe is a nice contrast to the mournful Midnight Sun (yes, the demo version is better, but the album cut is still great) and the driving rock ballad So Long Suicide.
AYNIN: Too Bad You’re So Beautiful/Runway Runaway/Before the Rain
Runway Runaway is still my favorite song off of AYNIN, five years later. It’s beautiful in its simplicity and subversive at the same time; an upbeat song evoking images of child leaving home, moving on to adulthood. And if Runway Runaway is #1 for me off AYNIN, than Too Bad You’re So Beautiful is a close second. Another bitingly clever lyric about dating while musically harkening back to Hold Back the Rain. Speaking of rain…Before the Rain really grew on me after hearing it live. All in all, an extremely strong ending sequence. (Note: I am not counting instrumentals in this analysis, thus the exclusion of “Return to Now,” which, truth be told, I am largely indifferent to.)
Tier Two: Very Strong
Rio: Last Chance on the Stairway/Save a Prayer/The Chauffeur
I am not a fan of The Chauffeur, but I recognize it’s a great and classic Duran song, and a fitting ending to Rio. Last Chance was my favorite song off the album growing up, and obviously Save a Prayer is classic. This would be top-tier (and probably is for most of you reading) but for my feelings about The Chauffeur.
Duran Duran (The Wedding Album): Shelter/To Whom it May Concern/Sin of the City
This is a strong way to end an album. I’ve always felt Shelter could have been a single, and I enjoy the guitar driven songs like Sin of the City and To Whom It May Concern. But…I’ve never particularly liked the lyrics to To Whom It May Concern (I get it, it’s about a lawyer they fired). I’ve always felt like that music was wasted with those lyrics…and similarly, I wish Sin of the City was shorter and all of the extraneous non-musical parts were stripped out. Again, I realize that it’s Duran Duran, they’re an art band, but sometimes those extra sounds work (e.g. fireworks in New Moon) and sometimes they don’t.
SATRT: Shadows on Your Side/Tiger Tiger/Seventh Stranger
The weak link here, for me, is Tiger Tiger. Otherwise, I might rank this as highly as the debut album’s ending sequence. The Seventh Stranger is one of my all time favorite Duran ballads (and would probably rank as my favorite album-closing song), and Shadows on Your Side might be my favorite song off the entire album. Tiger Tiger is fine, but I think its appeal for me is more one of sentiment (it takes me back to 1983! It’s the opening to As the Lights Go Down!) than of actual musical quality, as compared to the rest of the catalogue. That being said, I still put the ending sequence to SATRT in the upper half of Duran albums.
Best of the rest
Big Thing: Land/Flute Interlude/Edge of America/Lake Shore Driving
I don’t dislike any of these songs, but if I’m comparing them to the rest of the catalogue, they don’t hold up. I do think the ending works in context of the Big Thing album. Lake Shore Driving is as explosive an ending to a Duran album there is, as if all of the pent-up energy from the acoustic/mellow b-side of the album finally finds its release. Again, nothing bad here, but I’m not going to rank these songs, as a group, ahead of many of the other aforementioned album closing trios.
Liberty: Can You Deal With It/Venice Drowning/Downtown
These three songs are emblematic of the entire album. They are not necessarily bad (especially when you listen to John Taylor’s version of Can You Deal With It), but something went horribly wrong in production. They would probably sound good live. Venice Drowning’s lyrics are especially tough (I think it was the Rolling Stone review that called out this song and I was hard-pressed to disagree).
Pop Trash: Lady Xanax/The Sun Doesn’t Shine Forever/Kiss Goodbye/Last Day on Earth
The problem here is that we have the closest Duran has ever come to a country song wedged between an excellent ballad and one of the best, most guitar-driven and edgiest songs the band has ever written. I’m just not a fan of The Sun Doesn’t Shine Forever, the minute-long guitar solo at the end notwithstanding. I also think Kiss Goodbye/Last Day on Earth would have worked better as the album’s opening track, not the closer, with Lady Xanax closing out the proceedings.
RCM: She’s Too Much/Dirty Great Monster/Last Man Standing
The highlight here is She’s Too Much, one of the more underappreciated cuts off RCM. I don’t necessarily dislike the other two songs, but I don’t think they are especially memorable, either. I did think Last Man Standing was cool to see live, as each member left the stage as the song wound down to just the drums (similar to what U2 did when they would close a set with “40.”) If Cry Baby Cry were an actual album track and not an extra, then RCM would rank higher.
Astronaut: One of Those Days/Point of No Return/Still Breathing
This will get me some hate mail, I’m sure. Let me be positive: I love One of Those Days, it’s one of my favorites on Astronaut. And if I’m in the right mood, I do enjoy Still Breathing, even though I’ve always interpreted it as Simon’s credo about the 90’s lineup. Which is difficult for me because I love that era of Duran, even though it had to end. Overall, Duran has set the bar very high with their ballads, and I don’t think the two that end Astronaut hold up well. Just an opinion…now, had some of the discarded tracks been used, we’d have a different story (e.g. “TV vs. Radio” has closing track written all over it and would have been an amazing way to end Astronaut).
Notorious: Meet El Presidente/Winter Marches On/Proposition
Meet El Presidente is my least favorite song on the album, so for as much as I love Proposition, that’s hard to overcome. I am lukewarm on Winter Marches On, but it at least feels like an album-ending song.
Thank You: Thank You/Drive By/I Wanna Take You Higher Again
I don’t even like including Thank You in these types of rankings, since they aren’t Duran Duran songs. Except for Drive By. See my comments above about The Chauffeur.
So what do you think of my rankings? Are they paper-thin? What did I get right? And more importantly, where did I go wrong? (I know, I know: I must have a case of Chauffeurophobia…!)