Tag Archives: Red Carpet Massacre

I wish *I* Knew What’s in Their Head(s)

It is always nice when DDHQ gives me something to think about and chew on while blogging. Yesterday, they asked the “simple” question of what has been the most surprising change they’ve made during the course of their constantly evolving life as a band?

Naturally, this question is fully loaded. I can cite about 35 surprising things just off the top of my head. Should I answer the question from the POV I once had as a preteen Duranie? How about as an adult? Fan blogger? Overall?? Could I even begin to decide on ONE thing that has surprised me more than all others?

Let’s face it, there have been many things to shock the hell out of me over the years. Roger left the band, first of all. In my mind, that wasn’t supposed to happen in 1985, or any time. I can tell you exactly how I responded to that news: “Why is it always the band member *I* like that has to leave first??” Imagine that sentence loaded with all of the self-centered emotion of a 14 year old girl, and you’d pretty much have my feelings in a nutshell. The music didn’t surprise me much, but having my guy leave certainly did!

Warren came along right as the 80s were about to leave the building. Sure, I’d seen him getting in there, but to be fair – I tried not to notice too much. I figured that as long as he towed the line (Andy’s line, I might add), it would all be fine. Say whatever you want about him – at the time I didn’t know anything about Warren except that he wasn’t Andy Taylor. That fact, was unsurmountable, but I had high hopes until I started seeing one interview after another where Warren took great joy in announcing just how much better of a guitarist he was. To me, *that* was what was so surprising about him, not his playing. I’d always been taught that if you’re good at something, it’s your actions that put the proof in the pudding, not the words.

Then there was Ordinary World. Just when I had begun to think that was all there was, the band proved they had more gas in the tank! The song was nothing like “Rio” or “Planet Earth”, and yet they were getting more radio play than they had in years. I wondered how long it might last. Yes, I know Warren is responsible for the guitar part. It is not my favorite song by a long shot, but I appreciate that his work kept the band going.

More recently, there’s been Red Carpet Massacre. The album surprised me because it seemed like such a departure from anything they’d done previously. People have said there’s no “Duran Duran” sound, but I’d humbly disagree. There are certain qualities to most, if not all Duran Duran songs over the years that I can absolutely attribute to the band. Simon’s stacked harmonies, John’s bass lines, even the atmospheric synthesizer and keyboards from Nick. Those elements seemed to be missing or at least very hidden in the mix on Red Carpet Massacre. Add to that the likes of Timberlake and Timbaland being VERY audible, and you’ve got one surprising album.

Anybody remember the days when John was on Twitter? How about Simon’s vocal problems in 2011? Both things shocked the heck out of me to some extent. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to engage with a real member of Duran Duran on social media…or anywhere….ever…and I did! I tend to wonder if perhaps John didn’t see the value in being on Twitter, or that it made the relationship between fans and the band more complicated, between all of the “likes” and “follows”. That is certainly understandable, but the one thing I am grateful for when it comes to social media, is having that time. As crazy as it sounds, it made the band feel a lot more human to me, and while I can’t account for the feelings of every fan – I can say it was more than I could have ever hoped for as a kid, which in turn makes it one of the most surprising things this band, or members within, have done.

Paper Gods surprised me because it was all of the things that Red Carpet Massacre was not, incorporated into all of the things that Duran Duran has always been. While I am not going to say the album was perfect, I can appreciate the effort to modernize Duran Duran’s sound. It still surprised me though, coming off of All You Need is Now. Two incredibly different albums within the same decade. Amazing.

All of those things, plus so many others have kept me captivated and learning to expect the unexpected from Duran Duran over the years. The surprises have kept the band fresh, and their sound from becoming stale. I could name probably ten more things that made me sit up and take notice over the years. But, one thing above all else stands out in my mind as being the most shocking.

One night in 2003, I snuck into my husband’s office downstairs while my kids were playing and Walt was in the garage. Earlier I figured I could pop onto duranduran.com and check out the message boards before anyone (Gavin) learned how to build a bomb. What came up for me as the website loaded was beyond my wildest dreams. Five faces stared back at me, and even then, I was confused. Wait. Could it really? Nah…… But wait, is that…is that John? If that’s John, who are those other guys?? It was only after I read, and re-read the headline announcing a show at the Pacific Amphitheater over and over, and over again, that I even allowed myself to consider that maybe, just maybe I was going to be able to see all five members of my very favorite band for the first time. So yes, for me, having the fab five reunite was, by far, the most surprising thing this band has ever done, at least, as far as I’m concerned….and that’s not a dare for them to try to up the ante!

-R

On the Other Side

I was thinking this morning about this band, and how with each album, particularly post-reunion, we seem to run into roadblocks.

Granted, Duran Duran isn’t alone. Crazy things happen all of the time, and sometimes to all of us at once – like right now. I just had to chuckle a bit when I thought about it all though.

During Astronaut, they were managing their own reunion. I believe John used the words “Union of the Snake” in some way to describe the sometimes tenuous recording sessions and band meetings. So while to fans, the band getting back together wasn’t a terrible thing (far from it), for the band it must have been incredibly fraught with frustration at times.

Red Carpet Massacre saw the end of the Fab Five. It began as one record and ended as another. I don’t think the recording process is ever that smooth – ask any five musicians their opinions on writing and recording, and I’m sure you’ll get five different responses, but to have your guitarist quit and go from self-producing to working with someone you’ve never met before couldn’t have helped.

Most people likely recall All You Need is Now. Goodness knows I sure do. What started off with a bang (at least with fans), ended up having a serious false start as Simon had to end the UK tour before it started due to vocal problems. The momentum ramped up, only to hit a virtual wall. Crazy times indeed.

Paper Gods seems to be the outlier here….although I know that John said something (why is it always John, or is it just that I pay more attention to him?? Hmm…I’ll add that to my list of future contemplations!) about having to overcome some sort of serious strife or gulf between band members in order to finish the album. My guess is that there’s always something!

Which brings us to present. The unnamed album #15. It seemed as though the creative process was on a good roll. They were nearing the finish line, and sure enough – Coronavirus. Come on now. They’ve had festivals canceled. The 40th anniversary is now going to be a 41st, or even a 45th if we’re not careful. Hyde Park, The 501st and 502nd DD show at The Cosmopolitan (a minor exaggeration on my part)….all of it wiped out for the spring and summer. 2020 has been canceled, as far as I can tell.

The one thing I will say about Duran Duran, even when I’m frustrated, even when I don’t love some of their decisions – is that they’re resilient. Quitting is not in their collective vocabulary. This is a band that could have fallen apart a dozen or more times by now. Things that could have crushed other bands have ended up making this one stronger. (pretty sure there’s a saying about something like that) Sure, John (I think this is the third time I’ve mentioned him in this single blog…) had Coronavirus, and yeah, that pandemic has pretty much stopped the entire world on its axis for a bit, but they’ll be back.

-R

May The Force Be with…Duran Duran?

Several years back, I found an article online that compared the first three Duran Duran albums to the original Star Wars trilogy. It was a brilliant comparison; unfortunately, I never bookmarked the article and have since been unable to track it down. (Note to readers: ping
me on Twitter (@ckshortell) if you happen to find it.)

I think a similar comparison could be made with some of Duran’s post-reunion albums and the newest Star Wars trilogy. Actually, there’s probably a longer comparison that could compare the entire Star Wars canon with all 14 Duran albums and side projects. But for now, let’s stick to a simple, but apt, comparison.


The Force Awakens/All You Need is Now

The latest Star Wars trilogy launched with 2015’s The Force Awakens. Ten years after the end of the financially successful but critically panned prequel trilogy, The Force Awakens, directed
by J.J. Abrams, was actually as much a “soft reboot” of the Star Wars franchise as it was a sequel trilogy. Hugely successful, the movie introduced new characters into the mythology while employing some heavy nostalgia. A bunch of plucky rebels must destroy a big bad planet killing machine! Or, in this instance, a star system killing machine! There were some changes, however. The hero was now a woman, played by the very charismatic Daisy Ridley; the bad guy, Kylo Ren, was still “in training” and not all powerful; and overall, the cast was much more diverse than the original.


Sound familiar?

Think back to nine years ago and All You Need is Now. That album came on the heels of 2007’s Red Carpet Massacre, itself a massacre of circumstance (after Andy’s departure and the shelving of Reportage) and collaboration (with very un-Duranie collaborators like Timbaland joining the team.) (For the record: I mostly like RCM. But for the purposes of this comparison, I’m going with how most of the fanbase reacted to it. Which was badly. Very badly.)

Where did Duran go? To Mark Ronson, as much the “hot” producer as J.J. Abrams was the “hot” director for the Star Wars franchise. And what did Ronson do? Basically “reboot” Duran by helping them craft an album closer to their original, early 80’s sound than anything they had done since. The video about the creation of “Girl Panic” is a microcosm of this approach. “Play the drums like ‘Girls on Film’, Ronson told Roger. And the guitar, asked Dom? “Like Andy played it…on Girls on Film.” And on and on.

But All You Need is Now was more than just a retread of the early material—it genuinely worked, with catchy hooks and classic Duran choruses that had been lacking from many of the previous albums. One review asked, “Where have all these songs been hiding all these years?” Yes, there were clear nods to Rio. But the album also paid homage to other Duran eras. “Safe” channeled the funk from Notorious. The industrial sounding keyboard synth on the title track,
coupled with Dom’s guitars, brought to mind the more rock-oriented 90’s Duran sound, while the chorus was vintage Duran.

Like The Force Awakens, All You Need is Now did add some diversity to the mix. Simon shared the vocals more on AYNIN than on any previous album, with guest appearances by Kelis and Ana Matronic, as well as broadcaster Nina Hossain providing spoken word codas to two songs.

Overall, All You Need is Now succeeded for the same reasons that The Force Awakens did: it created something new, yet familiar, with a broad appeal to both core and new fans alike.

Paper Gods/The Last Jedi

There was a great deal of anticipation following the huge success of The Force Awakens. Specifically, the next movie was set to feature the return of Luke Skywalker, the hero of the original Star Wars trilogy. Mark Hamill reprised the role and was in the closing seconds of The Force Awakens, teasing fans and making the two-year gap between movies seem interminable. The Last Jedi also featured a different director—Rian Johnson—who took over the reins from
J.J. Abrams.

Unlike The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi proved to be a very divisive movie within the Star Wars fanbase. Luke Skywalker’s portrayal as a bitter, older Jedi who intentionally cut himself off from the Force came as a shock to fans, who wanted to see their childhood hero wield his lightsaber and confidently bring the First Order (the bad guys in the movie) to their knees. It didn’t help matters that Mark Hamill was quoted as questioning the script.

The b-plot of the movie—the flight of the Resistance from the First Order—also ends in disaster for our heroes, which didn’t sit well with fans, who thought that much of that plotline was pointless. And, spoiler alert: most of the Resistance dies. In fact, there are so few remaining rebels that they are all able to fit on the Millennium Falcon at the film’s conclusion.

The movie also seemed to gut the new trilogy of any sense of mystery by resolving (or simply negating) far too many plot points than a middle act typically would. Who, exactly, was Supreme Leader Snoke? Apparently, it didn’t matter as he was cut in two by Kylo Ren. Who were Rey’s parents? They were “nobodies” – a major subversion of the “Luke, I am your father” revelation from The Empire Strikes Back.

Meanwhile, on planet earth, Duran Duran followed up the fan friendly All You Need is Now with Paper Gods, an album seemingly as divisive among the fan base as the loathed Red Carpet Massacre. Again, I will freely acknowledge my bias: While I don’t love every single track on Paper Gods, on balance, I think it’s an amazing album, possibly their best since The Wedding Album. As usual, my opinion is likely in the minority among the Duran fan base.

Like The Last Jedi, Paper Gods subverts expectations. The title track is like nothing we’ve really heard from Duran before—it’s an epic opener, a cross between “New Religion” and “The Valley” in sheer scope. And therein lies the problem for some—why would you ever want to channel “The Valley” in any way, shape, or form? (For the record: I love “The Valley”. So I’m fine with it.)

“Last Night in the City” follows, and once again, we’ve shed the 80’s formula from AYNIN. Synths dominate; guitar is largely absent. The band seemed more concerned with a sound that would find chart success in 2015 vs. 1983.

Paper Gods, ultimately, feels like a bunch of different albums lumped onto one playlist. There’s the modern, dance oriented, sequel to Red Carpet Massacre that can be heard on tracks like, “Last Night In the City,” “Danceophobia,” “Face for Today,” and “Change the Skyline.” Then there are darker, more experimental cuts like the title track and “You Kill Me With Silence.” There’s more funk on this album than anything since Notorious, as found on “Butterfly Girl”, “Pressure Off,” “Only in Dreams,” and even “The Universe Alone.” And then there are songs that refuse to fit in any box: the dreamy “What Are the Chances,” in the classic tradition of Duran ballads; the 70’s sounding “Sunset Garage,” which sounds like nothing heard before on any previous Duran album. Even “Face for Today”—which I lumped in with the “modern dance” set of tracks—features as classic a Duran chorus as you will ever hear, that could hav been ripped from 1983’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger sessions.

Paper Gods, like The Last Jedi, dared to be different; it dared to cover new (and old) ground. And both caused their respective fan bases some consternation, as they seemingly failed to live up to the expectations set by the preceding work.

DD15 / Rise of Skywalker

Which brings us to the present. Expectations are high across both the Duran and Star Wars fandoms. In a little over a month, the new Star Wars trilogy concludes with the highly anticipated Rise of Skywalker. The trailer has offered some tantalizing clues, but overall, the plot continues to be shrouded in mystery.

Likewise, the next Duran Duran album is slated for release…possibly in the spring of next year? We all know not to give too much credence to when the band claims its new album will be out. But everything seems lined up for a new album and tour to (finally!) commemorate the 40th anniversary of the band. We’ve gotten a few details on it—Simon claimed recently that it’s an album that will “make you dance” like “Rio”—but we’ve heard similar claims about previous albums that didn’t necessarily turn out true.

What is true is that both the next Star Wars movie and Duran Duran album are highly anticipated by their fans, and many are hoping for change of direction. Will fans be happy with the finished product? Or after so many hears, is it an impossible task that we’ve set up these artists to accomplish?

Stay tuned…and May the (Duran) Force Be With You

The Heart, The Mind, The Albums

a dialogue between the ego and the alter-ego

As a music writer who recently lost his primary publishing outlet, the kind offer from Daily Duranie to be their intern and write once a week really softened the disappointment. Over the last few weeks, I have dove back into every corner of my Duran Duran memories and music to establish a mental base of operations for future writing. I’ve listened to every album again and watched some DVDs that I had missed. In the end, I realized one thing about myself. I am a divided self. At least, I am with Duran Duran albums. 

When I think about Duran Duran albums, there is a friction between my critical mind (which reviews an album or two each week) and my nostalgic heart. If you asked either piece of me to rank the albums, the lists would look quite different. So, I had to make a list. It’s a guy thing. We like making lists and arranging our taste in some sort of hierarchy that proves how smart we are. We are aware of this issue and we are working on it. 

The Best Duran Duran Albums

Heart/(Mind)

1. (1.) Rio

Rio is never a debate. From the artwork to the videos to every single song, the album captured a moment in popular culture and convinced us the our lives could be a James Bond film in some way. The bass lines are the stuff of legend and the band never again found such a perfect balance between Andy’s aggressive guitars and Nick’s carefully arranged melodies. Every band has “that” album where they are in the zone but sometimes you get tired of it. Not with Rio

(What he said.)

2. (2.) Duran Duran

A formidable debut album. From the Buzzcocks’ 1977 Spiral Scratch EP to this sounds like an eternity but it was only four years from punk to post-punk to Duran Duran. The musical maturity is already there in the arrangements and the band still sounds young and hungry. If this and Rio were all they ever released, Duran Duran would be revered like Joy Division. 

(OK, not Joy Division. But this debut rocks harder than people remember. The later addition of “Is There Something I Should Know?” in 1983 actually disrupts the album with Alex Sadkin’s production sounding too bright and colorful amongst the Colin Thurston tracks. Rarely talked about by critics, this is one of the strongest debuts of the decade.)

3. (5.) Big Thing

Experimental with purpose and the proper dose of Warren on guitar has aged this album extremely well. “All She Wants Is” still sounds pristine with a low-end that can shake the room. From moody ballads to driving dance tracks, Duran Duran colorfully (those outfits…) flaunt the ease with which they juggle pop and art. 

(Your neon colored eyes were at this show in 1989 and the band was fading in popularity. This album’s lukewarm success further pushed the band asunder of popular culture so how grand could it all be? Well, it is pretty grand but “Drug (It’s Just A State of Mind)” sounds completely out of place and is a total duff. If only there was an incredible B-side that should have replaced it. Hmm.)

4. (14.) Arena

The opening drums of “Is There Something I Should Know”. Is anybody hungry? Switch-it off. Was I chasing after rainbows? So many lines ignite the memory of listening to and watching this concert. Hearing “Seventh Stranger” on the last tour with the footage from 1984 playing above the stage was truly special. 

(How many live albums are really not that “live”? Probably most. How many of those also “live albums” include a studio recording mid-set? “Wild Boys” drops out of the sky into the middle of a concert and nobody thinks this is weird? When you can actually hear John’s bass, the songs sound better but the original version of Arena sounds like it was mixed in a soup can.)

5. (7.) Seven & the Ragged Tiger

As a kid, the build-up to the video premier of “Union Of the Snake” felt as exciting as watching the Space Shuttle launch. Lizard people in a desert. An underground society of freaks. The song and video ushered in the band’s most saturated time in popular culture. Soon after, “The Reflex” brought Duran their first US #1. As good as the singles are, the desolate “Seventh Stranger” remains the masterpiece here.

(Nile Rodgers saved this album by fixing “The Reflex”. There are three songs in the middle of the album that I have always confused. As I try to hear them in my head, “(I’m Looking For) Cracks In the Pavement” is the one I like best and the one that isn’t about dice is the one I like least (at a loss for what it is called right now and I listened to this cassette every day for a year when it came out). This album is inconsistent and the band sounds stressed that the fans might catch on.)

6. (4.) Notorious 

I wasn’t ready for it when it arrived but this and Big Thing really stand-out in the band’s career. The band really fought themselves out of a corner with Notorious and established themselves as musicians, not teenage heart throbs. The musical talent was always there but the band sounds more focused and precise.

(Notorious was when Duran Duran stopped trying to be James Bond and took a deeper interest in the relationships of our beloved 007. “Skin Trade” is as sexy as Duran has ever been. Even with Andy gone, the guitars are still keeping Mr. Rhodes’ more pretentious proclivities in balance yielding a mature and confident Duran Duran. Song for song, there is a consistent quality to the album where every song serves a purpose.)

7. (3.) All You Need Is Now

Without a doubt, my favorite Duran album post-80s. Mark Ronson keeps it simple by focusing on what works best. They might not be hits in a commercial sense but fans of a band know when a song is a “hit”. The title track and “Girl Panic!” were top-shelf singles in any decade. An unfair criticism but the fact that we don’t listen to albums on repeat day after day anymore probably makes this slightly under-appreciated by me. 

(Slightly under-appreciated?! Song for song, this belongs in their top three. The artwork, the analogue synths, the stellar guitar work of Dom Brown, and an arsenal of hooks makes this an unforgettable Duran Duran album. What is harder than following up a massive debut album with an even bigger one that conquers the world? Recording an album two decades later that holds its own with the first two.)

8. (6.) Medazzaland

Mid-period Duran Duran without a Taylor was a little uncertain but Medazzaland remains an experimental delight. The video for “Electric Barbarella” might stir debate but the song sounds futuristic and kitsch. They even erupt like Tesla on the chorus of “Who Do You Think You Are?”. A few anonymous tracks drift-by but the album never loses its grip on you. 

(Not releasing it in the UK was a tragedy. The UK audience would have appreciated the cold electronics. While not exactly Bowie’s Low, the band’s experiment pays off with a strong collection of songs. Warren colors between the lines when he needs to and enhances Nick’s digital landscapes. Best experienced as a whole, Medazzaland sounds like a place we should visit.)

9. (11.) Red Carpet Massacre

The follow-up to Reportage (apparently), suffers from a case of uncertainty but there are some genuinely killer dance tracks on here. Hearing “Tempted” live sent me back to this album and I found more than I remembered. Simon’s voice on “Box full o’ Honey” sounds exquisite, for one. “Dirty Great Monster” sounds like a lost Cheap Trick gem and “Last Man Standing” is the sort of album track that can carry an album beyond the singles. 

(Parting ways with Andy should have ignited a spark of swagger from the band but they sound content to the let the high-priced producers do the driving. Timberlake really brings little to the party besides being popular at the time. He is a once-in-a-generation talent but the collaboration was stale. Chasing a more “authentic” club sound only reminds us how important Roger Taylor on real drums is to the Duran Duran formula.)

10. (8.) Liberty

Unfairly maligned for some misteps like “Hothead”, there is some really great material on Liberty. Every critic said the lead single was a terrible choice but I actually dig “Violence”. The second side of the album definitely loses some focus but the first half proves worthy of frequent listens and “My Antartica” is nothing short of beautiful. 

(The modern-pop of “Serious” and the fierce “First Impression” showcase a band considering future paths. At the time, it was easy to call this indecision but I think it was borne from curiosity the more I listen to the album. The myth that Wedding Album “saved” the band implies that Liberty was a catastrophe. Nothing is further from the truth.)

11. (12.) Wedding Album

The first time I heard “Ordinary World”, I was crossing the railroad tracks near Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach, FL. I remember it that vividly. Duran Duran was back! Three classic singles and some interesting filler made for a respectable but overrated album. 

(No matter how successful “Ordinary World” was to the band, it still doesn’t sound like a classic Duran Duran song. While the liquid grace of “Come Undone” and the attitude of “Too Much Information” were dynamite, the rest of the album is far less coherent than Liberty.)

12. (9.) Astronaut

Andy Taylor’s guitar tone has a unique frequency that just soothes my soul. His style is a breath of fresh air after Warren’s antics on the fretboard (and in the bedroom). Even if there was only the reunion tour, it was worth it but the band took the time to deliver new material that often reminds you of their best work while not quite getting there.

(I would have liked to see them hit the studio after a reunion tour while the juices were flowing but “What Happens Tomorrow” and “Nice” will always make my Duran playlist. Rest of it is somewhat forgettable but I enjoy it when I listen to it.)

13. (10.) Paper Gods

Living in Vegas, you build up an instant distain for anything that smells like EDM. So, “Last Night In the City” will always be an album killer for me. The ballads lack the necessary hooks and the best songs from this period were relegated to b-side status. Paper Gods took too long to record and there were too many cooks in the kitchen. 

(Not nearly as bad as I think. “Sunset Garage” could almost slip into a Motown playlist while “Danceophobia” is a legendary band having a laugh. The bold title song shows confidence at the front of the album and the band sounds ready to keep the party going for at least another decade.)

14. (13.) Thank You

What they should have covered.

(The critics were savages when this came out but the production is quite good. “Perfect Day” is full of grace and “White Lines” captures the paranoia of the original. Still, it could have been much better than it is. )

15. (15.) Pop Trash

This was mostly trash.

(Yep.)

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-

What Keeps you going?

What happens when there’s a power outage and I’m still sleeping?

Basically, I slept in far too late, and now I’ve got a blog to write and publish in record time before a meeting with Amanda.

They get me

Many fans responded to my question about fandom. What keeps you interested as a Duran Duran fan? Handfuls of fans responded, from incredulous sounding “The music, of course!” to the slightly more introspective, “Because they get me.” Several others feel that it is a combination of the music and the friendships they’ve made along the way.

I feel as though I need to clarify that Amanda and I weren’t fishing for specific answers. There’s no one “right” answer that we were hoping someone would type and send. Our creative juices needed a jump start. I think we needed reminding as to why we’rehere to begin with. I call this, “getting stuck in our own head(s)”.

That said, of course we assumed that most were still here because of the music. I think though, I was hoping to gain a better understanding of what about their music it really IS that keeps us all anxious and waiting for whatever project comes next. When I think about why I’m still a fan, it all feels fairly overwhelming. Where do I even start?!? I suspect many of you might feel the same.

The push and pull

Does anyone think that their feelings about Duran Duran have changed since they first became a fan? Maybe their videos intrigued you, initially. Perhaps like me, you loved the idea of a synths paired with a rocking electric guitar. As the decades flew by, you can see that your interests in them have changed.

So in my case as I became a fan back in the 80s, I felt that other bands that relied more heavily on keyboards and synthesizers. While I can name many I liked, it always felt a bit shallow, or thin in sound to me. Duran Duran had this push and pull of balance, the sound was layered and deep, and I liked that. As the years have gone by, though, I feel as though the band has changed a little in that regard. I don’t think there’s that same constant struggle for equilibrium, although the depth of sound has always been there.

No fast food

I’m not going to rehash the band’s career because that’s not really my point – but I’ve found that my interests in their music have evolved a bit. I find myself listening to the words, recognizing how the music may drive the lyrics (or vice-versa). I love the way each one of their songs is a full-package. No two are the same, just as no two albums are the same. Speaking of albums, the one thing I appreciate most about Duran Duran is that their albums are typically meant to be listened to from start to finish. It is a full, complete story. There’s no “fast food music” delivery here, where you can buy a song or two on iTunes and feel like you’ve gotten the complete meal. No, with Duran Duran – sitting down and committing the full-45 minutes to an hour to really absorb the entire message is key. I felt that with Paper Gods, with All You Need is Now, and yes, even with Red Carpet Massacre, believe it or not!

If anyone has more to add on this subject, I am always ready and willing to share ideas. I love reading what everyone has to say about what continues driving their fandom. So much has changed during the four decades the band has been in existence – I want to hear from you. What keeps you going?

-R

To Find the Twist in Me

There must be somebody

I butted into a Twitter conversation this morning about “getting it”. How many times do you need to listen to an album before you connect, or “get it”? Is it a case of, “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again?” Or, do you figure that if the ears don’t like it, you’re done?

Naturally, we brought the topic right around to the band at hand. I will confess that there have been a few albums where it’s taken me plenty more than one listen to really get there. Paper Gods is one of them.

When I first listened to Paper Gods, I really don’t know what I was hoping to hear. I’d already heard several songs by the time I’d had the full album in my hands. My love for “Pressure Off” began with the first listen. I still contend it to be the best hook the band has written in years. That feeling still stands and one needs to look no further than their live show to see how the entire audience comes alive when they play it. (Sure, the confetti helps.) That said, much of the album was still a mystery. So, when I finally played the entire thing from start to finish, I came away with it not sure of how I felt.

Blow the rules away

On one hand, it sounded similar to Red Carpet Massacre, with the beats and slightly electronic feel. I didn’t hate it, but I also wasn’t sure I loved it. Amanda and I called it RCM-lite for a while, because it did feel very much like the halfway point between the urban sounds of Red Carpet Massacre and the more mainstream, slightly retro-sound of All You Need is Now. Even so, I have to be honest and admit that I really had a hard time deciding that I liked the sound.

Anyone can go back and read my blogs on Paper Gods to see what I mean. I’m not exactly proud of the fact that I didn’t jump in with both feet and say I loved it. It just took me a long time to come to terms with Paper Gods I had friends – patient, kind and very well-meaning friends – come to me and explain that I reviewed it way too early after far too few listens, and that my feelings about the album may have tainted other fans from supporting it. I felt terrible because A. the last thing I want to do is ruin someone else’s listening experience; and B. I didn’t want to upset the band, either. They’d worked hard on the album, and here I was – a long time fan with a fairly big mouthpiece, even if at the time I didn’t realize. I was souring the water without really meaning to do so. I did what any other fan might do (in silence!) – I kept listening.

Working up to something

I can remember the day when my feelings began to turn around. Mop in hand, I’d been cleaning my house. I had the album on, earbuds in, listening to each and every word and note. I noticed the lyrics during “Last Night in the City” were things with which I could directly identify. In fact, I was pretty sure Amanda and I had actually said some of those lines in the song ourselves! “Pressure Off” was and is (to us, anyway) the story of Amanda and I. We feel every note of that song and then some. “Butterfly Girl”, “What are the Chances”, and even :Only in Dreams” all had lyrics that meant something to me personally.

Musically, the album started to work for me too. I enjoy the depth and meaning of the lyrics. Yet the music is light and fun. I use the word “juxtapose” fairly often when I describe DD’s music – but it works here. Even that though, there is music depth on that album. “The Universe Alone” uses a multitude of electronic effects, but it is also one of the toughest songs I’ve ever had to come to terms with as far as content.

Can you handle it?

So how many times did it really take for me to get it? I don’t know for sure, but it took many listens. I just knew in my heart that I wasn’t a “one time” fan of Duran Duran, and that I was probably going to have to work for it in order to really feel the album get under my skin. Some people will tell you that if you really love an album or really love an artist that it doesn’t work that way. Love should be instantaneous. Is there really a point where you should just give up? How many times do you listen before you shelve it and move on?

-R

The Union of the Snake

Telegram force and ready

When I don’t have real news to report, admittedly I fall back to historical dates. They tend to either jar my memory, or get my creative juices flowing. Or, it remains as dry as the Sahara, and I struggle a lot to get something written. You just never know!

Today though, there’s a lot to get my brain going. I really don’t know what it is about March 27th, but this seems to be a day for label deals. Perhaps that is because many of their albums (or so it seems) have been released during autumn, so give or take six months prior brings us to March? I really don’t know. I’m not an expert, but I do know that in 2009, Simon blogged on duranduran.com that the band had left Sony Records.

There’s a fine line drawing my senses together

Much has been written about that time. The band had recorded and self-produced Reportage. Sony wasn’t sold on it, and had given the band a list of names to choose from to produce their album. We all know that during that time, Andy had also left the band for the second time, and of course – Timbaland entered the picture for Red Carpet Massacre. I still believe to this day that Sony felt that anything Timbaland touched would turn to gold (or platinum), and when that didn’t happen – they were convinced it was the band that was the problem.

I still smile nearly every year when I think back on it. It was probably the best move imaginable for the band – regardless of whether the band left Sony or if Sony left them. I cheered when I read the news that day, and when I posted the update on a message board (DDF), a mysterious visitor commented that they could not be happier. This was of course, AFTER handing me my backside on a platter for nearly crucifying the album. I still chuckle about that. I can honestly say it was the only time I’ve ever really laughed at myself after being publicly flogged. Perhaps I deserved it…but maybe the person doing the flogging needed to understand that it’s OK to still be proud of something that the general public didn’t fully embrace at the time, too.

Give me strength at least give me a light

On the same date in 2015, Duran Duran announced that Warner Bros. Records (Part of Warner Music Group) signed a global “recording contract” for Paper Gods. Many fans argue whether or not the band is still signed by Warner Bros. I cannot confirm one way or another, as I do not know. However, Duran Duran is not included on their current artist roster. I just checked the website again today, but I don’t know how up to date that really is. Then again, they signed with Warner Bros. in 2015. Seems like they might update that roster every once in a while?

The truth is, they could have had any one of a number of different deals with Warner. Production deals are common, although unlikely since the album was already written and recorded when Warner Bros. signed them. A distribution deal is also possible, even globally. That means the label would have been responsible for getting the product out into the world, and maybe even marketing. Standard deals are another option, which are what most people think of when they hear of a label “signing” a band. A deal like that usually includes development, recording, pressing, distribution and marketing. Lastly, there is the 360 deal, which is common these days. This means the label has their hands in everything from touring to brand development and everything in between, and the band would lose a lot of control and autonomy. Each type of deal has it’s benefits and detractions (like money, or lack thereof!).

Or, it could be some clever wording from DDHQ and PR people so that fans don’t really know what type of deal it is – because it’s really none of our business anyway.

There’s a chance you could be right

Many people have commented that since John said Warner Bros. suggested the record store day offering of As The Lights Go Down on vinyl, that must mean they’re still with Warner Bros. Again, I’m not an expert, but that’s possible. Another possibility is that the band is still on good terms with Warner Bros, and asked them to press and distribute the album. PR “spin” would be that Warner came to the band with this bright idea because it makes it sound as though the band is in demand. Which isn’t wrong. We fans are kind of demanding, aren’t we? That sort of spin happens frequently! According to John, the entire catalog is under “one umbrella” these days, so I can see this scenario as a possibility.

There’s no reason that I can find at this point, to assume anything more or less drastic. Paper Gods did well for Duran Duran – it was the first top ten for them since 1993, and it would not be a surprise if the band stayed with Warner Bros. for future albums. It also wouldn’t shock me if they didn’t – but by all means feel free to enlighten me otherwise!

In any case, March 27th seems to be the day of deals for this band. Makes you kind of wonder what the next year or two could bring!

-R


Happy Duraniversary, Red Carpet Massacre!

As difficult as it may be to believe, today marks the 11th anniversary of the release of Red Carpet Massacre.

I can’t really think of another Duran Duran album that was met with the same amount of scrutiny or strife. I think though that as years have gone by, feelings have mellowed a bit, and people have given the album more of a chance.

In keeping with that sentiment, I thought about my favorite songs off of the album.  The first, is the title song off the album, “Red Carpet Massacre”.  I love the energy behind the song, and I really appreciate that the track was written in a completely different vein than the rest. The beat makes me dance, and the words lend themselves well to describing the cutthroat nature of our community-at-large.

I wasn’t at this show (Amanda might have been?), but I did eventually get to see Duran Duran perform Red Carpet Massacre live, and I loved it! It’s funny, I’d forgotten about the costuming for this tour….it was great!

My second favorite from the album has got to be “Tricked Out”.  From the slightly Danny Elfman-feel of the music right on to the guitar solo, I was sold. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen this performed live, (I didn’t go to any of the Broadway shows because I was fairly sick, along with incubating my youngest.) but I’ve seen a few clips of it.

Probably best I never saw it because I am fairly certain I would have come out of the venue on a stretcher. Oxygen!  I NEED OXYGEN!!!

Anyway….

I definitely would not be opposed to hearing either or both live again at some point…I mean, if they want to properly commemorate that particular period of their career and all, am I right?

Happy Anniversary to Red Carpet Massacre!

-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