I heard you making patterns rhyme
If you had to categorize Duran Duran in a word, what word would you pick?
Are they pop? Rock? New Wave? Synthpop? Electronic? New Romantic? I think Nick described the band as Modernist once or twice?? What would you say?
My head is stuck on something precious
Yesterday, there were a few tweets going back and forth between several fans about DD’s music. Classic Pop Magazine has a Synthpop issue out on newsstands now. Although Duran Duran aren’t really mentioned in the magazine much, one of the editors put Ordinary World in their top ten synthpop songs. I find that interesting, because I wouldn’t characterize Ordinary World that way at all.
That got me thinking, of course. If Ordinary World isn’t truly synthpop, then what? I don’t think I ever came up with a reasonable answer for that. I always struggle with calling them a pop band because in my head – they’re not. They’re not music you’d hear on Top 40 radio (although we certainly did once). They might have some pop songs in their catalog, but I really hate the idea of categorizing them just as pop. It seems so pedestrian, boring and kind of cringy. Clearly, they’re not rock either. I mean, yeah, they’ve got guitar, but they don’t rely on it. I’d say similar for Synthpop – in my head, a synthpop group relies on the synthesizer for the melody lines. Is that the case with DD? I’d argue no on that.
Does it help to take one album at a time? I’d say no. For example, I mean, what do you call their debut? New Romantic? The problem with that, of course, is that the moniker isn’t as much about the music as it is about the fashion of the time. The reason we think of Planet Earth as New Romantic (aside from the words being in the lyrics…thank you Duran Duran…) is because of the ruffled shirts, the over the top hair and make up, the pirate look. To use a similar idea to what was discussed yesterday on Twitter, bands who were classified as New Romantic had synthesizers, but not all bands who had synthesizers were New Romantic. (nor were they New Wave – thanks @GuyFansofDuran!)
My eyes so cloudy, I can’t see
I think that for me, one of the reasons I’ve always valued Duran Duran so highly is that they didn’t CARE about boxes marked “New Wave” or “New Romantic”, or even “Pop” or “Rock”. The one thing I loved most about the band was also the one thing that challenged me from album to album. I never knew what a finished, new album would sound like, and there was never any way to prepare. As an aside, I’ve learned to never, EVER review one of their songs publicly after only a few listens. I have to sit with the music for a while. Paper Gods took me a good solid two or three weeks before I finally had that light bulb “I GET IT!” moment. I still don’t know what I’d characterize Paper Gods as, musically, though. Does it matter?
For those of us who tend to value a sense of routine and normalcy, Duran Duran has sometimes been the very opposite.
They’ve created music they liked. In their purist, most raw moments as a band in the very beginning, I don’t think they were worried about marketing or labels. Sure, they wanted fame and fortune. They wanted to be the biggest band in the world. But I don’t know that they were overly concerned with the minutia in getting there.
Can you hear me now?
What do I mean by that? Well, what I’m NOT saying is that they were careless for detail. That isn’t it at all. I just don’t think that they consciously sat back and tried to figure out what music might sell best, or get radio time the easiest. There was a certain kind of bliss with industry ignorance in that respect. How self-aware was the band before they really “made it”? I believe it was simple enough for them to get out of their own way back then.
Writing and recording under those conditions had to have been easier in that aspect. I mean, once you know who you are, and what you’ve done in the past, I suspect that has the potential to set the bar incredibly high. When I compare Rio and Seven and the Ragged Tiger, I see the latter as evidence of being far too self-aware, despite my undying love for the work.
I’m not sure how Duran Duran gets past all of the mind games that come along with recording nowadays. The ghosts of albums past, the requirements of record labels to deliver at least one verifiable, marketable, top 40 hit coupled with the notions of playlists, streaming, and the idea of how much differently music is consumed these days than forty years earlier. On top of all that, deciding what kind of music they’re actually going to record, and fighting whatever label people want to put on them now? Pop? Rock? Electronic? EDM? Urban? Contemporary? Oh hell no. How can anybody be creative in that environment?
Is there anybody out there trying to get through?
If I were them, I’d want to throw my phone in the trash compactor, unplug from society, and forget the labels. It seems to me that it might be the only way to record an album with honest, pure, organic intentions.
Of course, if they did that, then they wouldn’t be able to read my incredibly humorous and intelligent fodder.
Throw your electronic devices away, gentlemen… and good luck!