Last week saw a Duran Duran anniversary. No, I don’t mean John Taylor’s 60th (although that happened, too!). I am referring to the Pop Trash album turning 20! 20! How is that even possible?! Did you also know that there was a write-up about the anniversary on the band’s official website? You can read it here! I thought I would take a few minutes to read it and drop down some thoughts.
Before I get started, I have to acknowledge that I don’t feel a particular closeness with this album. I admit that part of that is because a certain bass player was missing and it came out in a time when my fandom was pretty dang low. I’m not like some fans who do not own the album at all. I own it and know the songs. There are many that I like. That said, I cannot say that I love any of the songs. Perhaps, by reading about its history, I’ll appreciate it more, especially since the write-up features Nick, Warren, the engineer and the art director. I am sure that multiple perspectives will help. Of course, I find it interesting that Simon did not contribute. I wonder why.
“The cover for POP TRASH did feature the Excalibur car which Liberace used once for a show at Radio City Music Hall in New York. We jumped through numerous legal hoops for the PT artwork, including permission to use Elvis Presley’s eyes for the ‘Hallucinating Elvis’ page. The decision to use Liberace’s car came from sitting around the kitchen table at Nick’s house with Simon and Warren. There were other cover ideas on the table, one of which was much liked, but was too close to Beck’s ‘Midnight Vultures’. In the end, the shot of Liberace’s Rhinestone-encrusted roadster seemed to be the perfect vehicle to encapsulate the concept of the album.“
One aspect of Duran that I have always appreciated is the connection to art and how much art adds to the packaging. I love that they worry about the details of the album cover, font, merchandise, etc. I remember seeing an interview with Nick saying that they view themselves more as a multi-media company. I can see that. Anyway, I appreciated that they included the art director in this walk down memory lane. As I read the description above, I found myself taking a look at the album cover again. I wondered and still do if the title fits the flavor of the album. Yes, there is the song, Hallucinating Elvis, but so many others don’t feel like that song does to me. Nonetheless, the imagery fits the title in my opinion, even if all of the songs do not.
The most interesting part was this, “I had worked with Warren when he was in Missing Persons, and through that relationship I was brought in to help on the THANK YOU album. As that was progressing, I would bring rough mixes of our work home, and when playing these to friends they were astounded to hear that it was DD. We were getting a much edgier more rock side of the band, it was wonderful, but then the management and label heard it, got scared that it wasn’t old school Duran, and persuaded the band to try and make it sound more like the band everyone knew.”
I would be very curious to hear those original mixes, if they were, indeed, edgier and more rock. Likewise, I would love to be a fly on the wall when the management and label convinced the band to make it sound “more like them”. What was that conversation like? Why did the band go along with it, if this is true? This seems to be a theme that runs throughout Duran history–this tug of war between sounding “like them” and being more experimental. Thinking of the late 1990s, I’m not sure that the advice worked all that well as the band did not experience roaring commercial success.
I could not pick out just one paragraph or idea from Warren’s recollections but there were a few ideas that had a general theme, which was that recording Pop Trash was a different experience than the rest of the albums.
- “Nick having to do a lot of the lyrics, and me doing the same with the melodies, made POP TRASH different from earlier albums.”
- “As far as the approach to the POP TRASH recording, that was slightly different. We’d been listening to some old Bowie records and loved the organic sound.”
- “I played on bass for POP TRASH and the recollections for me was all about de clicking, sitting on the couch with Nick waiting for Mr. Tin to get rid of the clicks in the take. Yikes! The album would’ve benefitted greatly having JT in charge of the bottom end.”
In thinking about all those differences, I wonder if I cannot sense them and feel uncomfortable in response. Did the lyrics not grab me because Nick wrote a lot of them as opposed to Simon? Did the music miss John like Warren acknowledged?
Nick touches on the very same subjects here, “Admittedly, it was an awkward time for us, and the first and only album without John Taylor at all, which felt really uncomfortable, particularly for Simon and I to have lost all three of our Taylors. To lose one may have been regarded as misfortune, to lose three looked like carelessness… We were trying to carve out a direction, but all feeling a little unsure. Simon was going through a difficult time in his life and so for POP TRASH, I ended up writing more lyrics than usual, and that in itself created a different dynamic.”
As soon as I read this, I immediately had a different feeling about the whole thing. I can understand having a difficult time and trying to push through. I’m sure that they probably knew that it was going to be unlike any previously recorded Duran album but, perhaps, the victory wasn’t making the best album ever but just getting it done. Maybe I am been judging too harshly. I know that I would hate for people to judge my work when I’m struggling. This weekend, for example, is a big time campaign weekend of action. Unfortunately, there is a lot going on with my paid career that has me distracted. Am I doing the best job I can on the campaign front? Probably not but my effort is still there.
My sympathy for the band during that time has grown. I’m glad that I took the time to read and think about it. It will definitely make the next listen to Pop Trash a different one.