Tag Archives: Medazzaland

Three To Get Ready

the lasting first impression is what you’re looking for – “First Impression”

The excitement of unwrapping a new cassette, CD, or vinyl record, and settling into a new listening experience retains its sense of excitement no matter how old we get. There is something magical about hearing new music from a favorite band and, often, the first three songs of the album are a strong indication of where you are headed together. The trio of songs that open U2’s The Joshua Tree and Prince’s 1999 are astoundingly good and a huge reason both are considered classic albums. Does Duran Duran have a trio on the same level? Maybe not but it made for a fun Duran Dissection project.

Duran Duran (1981)

The camera shutter of “Girls On Film” is certainly prophetic given Duran’s success in front of it on MTV and countless teen magazines. Then you get “Planet Earth”, a song that encapsulates a moment in time when all the various styles of the 1970s were coalescing into a new sound that would change the world. While “Anyone Out There” might have made it back into recent set lists because of the NASA show, it would be hard to find someone unhappy about it. Not necessarily single-worthy, “Anyone Out There” remains one of the strongest album tracks the band would ever record. 

Verdict: A- (I decided to use letter grades since Amanda is a teacher and we need more heroes like her on the front lines of education)

Rio (1982)

From the dark clubs of the New Romantic movement to the world stage, the more colorful sound of “Rio” is pop perfection and succinctly captures the spirit of the 1980s. The trio gets a little shaky, however, with the album version of “My Own Way”. No matter how much I love this album, there is always a voice in the back of my head telling Roger to speed it up on this song. I much prefer the Carnival remix and the night version to the original album version but maybe that’s just me. I also prefer the longer version of “Lonely In Your Nightmare” on the remixed US version of the album. The mood and atmosphere are allowed more time to capture your imagination. 

Verdict: B+

Seven & the Ragged Tiger (1983)

Nile Rodgers gets the A for his remix of “The Reflex” because the original is pretty flat overall. Given the anticipation for this record, it is a disappointing start. “New Moon On Monday” feels more fully realized but then the album loses momentum again with “(I’m Looking For) Cracks In the Pavement”. While not a horrible song, it isn’t essential to the album. One of the weakest opening runs of any Duran Duran album, it might have frightened casual fans away from the magic that awaits on side two. 

Verdict: C-

Notorious (1986)

A statement of purpose, the title song ring in a new era of Duran Duran that feels a little chippy (at least towards a flaky bandit). Then, “American Science” sways like a palm tree in the dark. Full of sophistication, the new Duran Duran were growing up faster than some fans; including me. The sexy “Skin Trade” should have faired better as a single and rounds out a thrilling opening suite of songs. The overall mood of the album comes through on these songs and all hold their own individually. 

Verdict: A

Big Thing (1988)

I sense that the title track is a love it or hate it moment in the band’s history. In 1988, I was definitely a little hair metal kid so the punch of it instantly appealed to me. Then, the band delivers two of their finest singles. I’ll argue all day that “I Don’t Want Your Love” and “All She Wants Is” are stronger singles than “The Reflex” and “New Moon On Monday”. OK, maybe I’m stretching it, but this album was criminally ignored by the industry. 

Verdict: A-

Liberty (1990)

I just waxed nostalgic over Liberty here so I’ll keep this brief. The first two songs are solid introductions to a slightly uncertain time for Duran Duran. That uncertainty turns into a hot mess on “Hothead”. I’ll leave it at that.

Verdict: D+

Duran Duran (1993)

Please, please let me know. Are we officially calling this The Wedding Album now? Despite the slight hypocrisy of the lyrics in “Too Much Information”, the song practically explodes from the speakers after the timid Liberty. Where would Duran have ended up had “Ordinary World” not turned the tide on their commercial free fall? I’d rather not think too hard about that. Unfortunately, “Love Voodoo” hints at some of the uneven music that follows on The Wedding Album

Verdict: B

Medazzaland (1997)

Experimental, bold, fresh. There are so many words to describe the mysterious Medazzaland album. The opening three songs are all of the above-mentioned adjectives and more. The album loses its luster the deeper you go but the opening trio lays to rest any concerns about Duran Duran bouncing back strong from the critical mess that was Thank You. It is hard to resist “Electric Barbarella” as a single. The percolating synths and guitars work well together. Its classic Duran Duran even if the video’s stab at humor fails to overcome the sexist premise.

Verdict: A-

Pop Trash (2000)

A new century of Duran Duran began with “Someone Else Not Me”, a fine song but a difficult album opener. Bordering on 60s psychedelic folk-pop, the song challenged us to open our minds to what Duran Duran could sound like. The opening guitar and drums of “Lava Lamp” could pass for a Matchbox 20 song before Nick and Simon arrive while the swirling “Playing With Uranium” manages a decent chorus. I find that I enjoy Pop Trash in a single listen so any three song run from this album leaves me indifferent.

Verdict: C-

Astronaut (2004)

And then they were back. “(Reach Up For the) Sunrise” has a chorus worthy of a stadium. It is contemporary but without sacrificing the values of early Duran Duran. “Want You More!” is the sort of synth-pop gold that the band used to dispense with ease. LeBon’s voice sounds particularly strong on “What Happens Tomorrow”, a mid-tempo rocker the band seems determined to put on every album since the success of “Ordinary World”. This time, it works out beautifully.

Verdict: A-

Red Carpet Massacre (2007)

Opener “The Valley” suffers from confusing production. This song should be a distant cousin to The Normal’s “Warm Leatherette” but it ends up trying to be something urban and hip. The title song and “Nite-Runner” are better examples of what the band was aiming for. It might have driven Andy to Ibiza and left me dreaming of what Reportage will someday sound like but this project has grown on me.

Verdict: B-

All You Need Is Now (2010)

Such an incredible album, the band hasn’t kept any of the songs in the set list since the tour ended supporting it. I’m not bitter. Yet. The title song is the best Duran Duran single since “All She Wants Is” and introduces an album that holds its own with the band’s best work during their imperial phase. “Blame the Machines” and “Being Followed” get the adrenaline racing with the perfect balance of synths and guitars. This is Duran playing to their strengths in every respect.

Verdict: A+

Paper Gods (2015)

One of the most instantly intriguing opening tracks the band has ever done. When the instruments come in, you can hear a little of M’s “Pop Muzik” buried in the DNA of the track. It’s an instantly likable blend of the band’s pop aspirations and art-school fixations. Of all the band’s albums, this one suffers the most from the sequencing. “Last Night In the City” is the sound of a screeching car crashing into a wall with some EDM blasting through the stereo. It feels out of place after the moody opener. “You Kill Me With Silence” feels like the appropriate follow-up to “Paper Gods” and doesn’t create such a disjointed listen. I could write an entire Daily Duranie piece on restructuring Paper Gods. Maybe, I will.

Verdict: C-

Was the Pop Trash Era Best?

Now that the beat is slow

DDHQ’s choice of the video for “Someone Else Not Me” for “Watch it Wednesday” sparks discussion of the Pop Trash era.

Admittedly, there were years from the mid-90’s until I saw the band for the Up Close & Personal tour in 2001, when I didn’t pay quite as much attention as I did in the 80’s. I was still interested, and believe me when I say my ears perked up at the mere mention of Duran Duran. Even so – my room was no longer wallpapered with posters and pinups. I grew up, and stopped needing those posters, I suppose.

I’ve spoken or traded posts and messages with a good many Duran Duran fans who proclaim the Pop Trash era to be their favorite – and if it wasn’t the music itself being mentioned, it was the live shows. Many of these fans are my personal friends within the DD community. I dare say that most of my friends in this community are die hard Duranies at heart.

Something I want to say

I only went to one Pop Trash era show—the one at the House of Blues for the Up Close & Personal tour in 2001. I will continue to scream “that single show changed my entire life” from the rooftops, but not for the same reasons that seem to come up with other fans. For me, that show re-opened up a door into my heart. I felt so much joy in being there in that room that I completely lost myself in the show. I didn’t even know the Pop Trash album that well at the time. The music between us, indeed.

Obviously, we can all make note of the hysteria present during the early 80s. Clearly that was missing by the late 90s. The era tends to ignite my curiosity not because of the fans who had left by that time, but by those who stayed connected.

Burst this bubble

So many of my friends who were truly engaged during Pop Trash speak so fondly of that time and those shows, over the years I’ve wondered what made it so. Sure, for many who loved the Pop Trash and Medazzaland albums, the answer is obvious. The music fuels the passion. For others, it was likely the proximity to the band itself. I have friends who tell me that back then, the band really seemed to embrace the fans. Rather than treating them like asylum escapees with a registered potential for violence quotient – they acted like they were old friends.

Were the fans just friendlier at the time? The late 90s -2000s were early days of the internet. Social media hadn’t yet hooked us with its talons. The reunion was a blip on the horizon, but no fan even suspected the possibility just yet.

Were die-hard fans during this period there more for the music than the nostalgia?

To type the words seems so judgmental. I don’t mean it quite that way, but to be fair – don’t you wonder what the ratio between die-hard and “I-heard-a-single-from-Pop-Trash-on-the-radio” potential fans were in any given audience on the Up Close & Personal tour might have been? Let’s just be blunt: there IS a certain percentage of the greater fan base that continues to show up because they’re still in love with the pinup images of John, Simon, Nick and Roger. That doesn’t mean every fan from the 80s lives in nostalgia, it simply means some still might.

Hardest thing is to let go

I can’t say whether I’ve tested my theories enough to call them law, but I have definitely noticed a certain “Where were YOU in the 90s?” attitude that has permeated over the years. If you suggest that you stuck around during that time, you’re alright. If, like me, you mention a sabbatical, however brief – one can sense the eyes upon you narrowing as they scrutinize from head to toe. Judgments are made based on how one answers the simple questions of what live shows you’ve seen, or whether or not you remained a “true” fan during the lean 1990s.

On the other hand, and most likely one attached to the body of someone who haughtily says they’re not at all nostalgic to 1980’s Duran Duran – there is the fact that during these same Up Close & Personal shows, the band played a FAR more varied set list, filled with songs from—oh yes, you guessed it—their first few albums and B-sides. Not nostalgic, you say? Please, tell me more about that. Fandom is fueled by nostalgia.

I don’t necessarily think I’ve discovered the answers to the questions on my mind, but on second thought, I’m really not sure there are black and white answers to be found. Fandom is complex. This isn’t math. There aren’t firm answers, even though people like me really might prefer that. A lot of the ground we walk on is slippery. I would know, I’ve fallen a lot. And repeatedly. Then, I’m a bit of a klutz trapped in a china shop. Save the china!!

-R

How do we really feel about Autumn Albums?

I think we can all agree it’s been pretty quiet recently. I can appreciate friends who post topics to get a conversation started, particularly when it comes to Duran Duran.  Personally, I love surveys and polls. They’re fun little “litmus” tests for the fan community, and they’re fun to look back on from year to year to see if there’s been any changes.

One of my Twitter friends, @BoysMakeNoise (you should follow him!) likes putting together surveys. This week, there was a survey on Autumn albums. Each of the albums that Duran Duran has released in Autumn months was given a star rating of 1 to 5, and then that information was compiled to find out what album was most liked.  He ran the same survey last year at about the same time, and now we’d have a comparison.

2017 Results  (average rating)

  1. Red Carpet Massacre  (2.95)

  2. Medazzaland (3.06)

  3. Astronaut (3.73)

  4. Big Thing (3.78)

  5. Paper Gods (3.96)

  6. Notorious (4.00)

  1. Seven and the Ragged Tiger (4.07)

2018 Results (average rating)

  1. Red Carpet Massacre (2.99)

  2. Medazzaland (3.06)

  3. Astronaut (3.63)

  4. Big Thing (3.74)

  5. Seven and the Ragged Tiger (3.86)

  6. Notorious (4.06)

  1. Paper Gods (4.28)

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I like to extrapolate information from results like these.  There were 100 participants in the survey. The number isn’t enormous, but I think it is fairly representative. Chances are, the people who participated are not simply “fair-weather fans”. These are people who know the band’s catalog, and know it well-enough to debate the components.

Astonishingly, the real movement here was between Paper Gods and Seven and the Ragged Tiger – one of the “Holy Trinity” albums. (First album, Rio and SATRT). Rarely do I ever see any of the initial three knocked out of the top three of any survey ever taken. They tend to be considered Holy Grail, virtually untouchable. The rest of the results stayed within a reasonable range of last year’s survey results, but most did vary.  Medazzaland, pinpointed at an average rating of 3.06 stars each year, was the only album with stagnate results.

Nostalgia at Work

It is rare to see any of the first three albums removed from the top of any “favorites” list. There are a number of reasons for this. The album was released in 1983, there was a reasonably huge tour to support it, and it came out at the height of their popularity. This album marked the end of the initial “Fab Five” era, and for that reason alone, even post-1980’s fans hold it close to their hearts. The nostalgia for this album is enormous, and that alone keeps it afloat.

Over the years I’ve been participating in social media, I’ve been involved in more than one discussion about Seven and the Ragged Tiger. It is a difficult album for me, because I remember how much I adored it when it was released. The funny thing is that even in 1983, I don’t think I really “got” it. I can remember thinking how strange it sounded compared to anything else out at the time—and I liked it that way. Even today, I’m astounded by just how much is going on in every single song. There are no “empty spaces”.  There are layers upon layers of music and background effect. The question, is whether or not it was overdone, and that’s always up for debate.

I can see the first three albums in a definite progression. The first album was pretty raw and natural. In my opinion, that album remains the most uniquely untouched “Duran”. No egos, no fame, no fortune to muddy the picture. Rio, has far more finesse. A little more ego, but not too much. After all, they didn’t “hit” in the USA until much of Rio was remixed (Kershenbaum) and re-released here in the states. They were UK stars, but America was another challenge. Next was SATRT, and they pulled out all of the stops for this one. There’s a lot going on, and I don’t just mean musically. The band clearly had an ego by this time, and they felt like they had something to prove, with all the resources in the world to do it. I can hear the inner tug-of-war going on within the band, and if you listen closely – you can hear Simon tell you all about the struggles of fame, too.

The trouble is, at least in my opinion, as much as I loved this period of time – the album has its challenges. In hindsight, Seven and the Ragged Tiger is representative of the band’s excesses on nearly every level. Even so, I can’t quit it, and likely – neither can you.

What about Paper Gods?

In the other hand lies Paper Gods. Upon first glance, you might not even recognize that it’s the same band, particularly if you’re not a diehard fan. As I bow to my fellow nostalgia-nerds out there, I can’t help but say that Paper Gods is the better album. The quality of construction is there. It has all of the finesse of Rio, with the same quality of ingenuity that created Seven and the Ragged Tiger. On the same token, Paper Gods is not a one-listen album. In order to fully appreciate the music, it takes time. Once again, if you listen closely, you’ll even hear Simon tell you everything you need to know about their career. Paper Gods is truly a survey of their career, and a hallmark album. I believe these to be the reasons for the growth in the survey results for Autumn albums over last year.

In other words, it is not so much that Seven and the Ragged Tiger has lost a huge amount of favor with fans as it is that Paper Gods is becoming more beloved. I don’t think there will ever be a time when a significant number of fans won’t include SATRT in their top three or four list of favorite DD albums, much less Autumn album. The nostalgia for the time, paired with the album’s historic status (it was the last album with the original five until 2004) continue to keep it balanced on a narrow pedestal. Perhaps though, Paper Gods will occupy its own nearby pinnacle. Time will tell.

-R