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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.