It is hard for me to imagine that Medazzaland has been a part of my life for twenty years. Coincidentally, twenty years ago last month, my husband and I moved back to California after living in Illinois for two and a half years.
We made the move not long after we were married in 1995, due to a job offer for my husband. When Walt’s company decided to sell his division, we moved back to California, now as a family of three. We’d been back here and living out of boxes for a few weeks when Medazzaland was released, and I came out of my moving and motherhood fog just long enough to drive to Wherehouse Music to get a copy. I remember unwrapping the CD and putting it in the car stereo. Walt wanted to scan through each song rather than hearing them play, which made the experience less-than-optimal for me, but I was so shocked after the first couple of songs, I didn’t know what to think.
I suppose I didn’t know what to expect going in. I knew it would be different, as they all are from one another, and I hadn’t been keeping up with the band in the same way I might now, so I was probably even more shocked. I probably was hoping for something that sounded closer to any one of the first three albums, which I admit severely undercuts the creativity of this band, but at the time, I didn’t think about any of that. I just knew what I expected to hear when I said “Duran Duran”.
I was looking for anything that made me feel like the old me. I was a new mom, dealing with a baby and postpartum depression, living with my in laws while we waited for our house to sell in Illinois so that we could buy one here. So just imagine someone trying to get a firm grip on some semblance or reminder of who they were – maybe hoping for a bit of Rio and instead – you’ve got Nick speaking the words to “Medazzaland”.
It was a bit of a shock, to say the least.
Sure, I took a deep breath when I heard “Big Bang Generation”. It’s still one of my favorites off of the album, and I won’t lie – those bright, stacked harmonies and melodious chords were exactly what I thought should be on the album. “Electric Barbarella” felt along the same lines. I started feeling better about the album, and then “Silva Halo” happened. The tempo alone made me uncomfortable. I didn’t declare it as genius, I’ll tell you that. I looked at Walt, he looked at me, and I was speechless. I felt completely left behind. I didn’t understand how the same band who wrote (yes) “Hungry Like the Wolf”, could write something like “Silva Halo” and believe it was good enough to put on an album. (How’s that for some Monday morning truth??)
That’s just the point though, isn’t it? This was not the same band. The band we have right now isn’t the same band who wrote Rio, either. It wasn’t as though they had Roger, Andy or even much of John in the studio writing and recording Medazzaland. This was a Duran Duran of (mainly) two original members, along with Warren – who may be a fabulously innovative guitar player in his own right, but he is also incredibly different from the original member. Of course they are going to create very different music, although I didn’t acknowledge that at the time. My problem was that I didn’t like a lot of it, which blew me away.
Yep, I could pretend that I was one of those enlightened fans who just “got” everything they did. I could say that I loved the way the band reinvented itself, and how they embraced innovation and experimental music. I’d certainly sound cooler if I did. But I didn’t. I listened to Medazzaland in its entirety exactly ONE time before I packed it away, never to get it out again until the reunion
No, that didn’t make me a good fan. Just the opposite, really, and I have to own that. I assumed that because I didn’t like that album on the first listen, that I had somehow grown out of being a Duran Duran fan. That was a hard, sad lesson for me. I saw my fandom, although I didn’t have a name for it at the time, as the one lifeline I really had back to a time before my life became a whirlwind of baby clothes, bottles and diapers. Once that was gone, I wasn’t really sure what I had left. I’d love to say I had other stuff going on for me at the time, but I really didn’t. I had a baby, a husband, and a life I really didn’t recognize. It was a very weird time. While it really had nothing to do with Duran Duran, in some ways now looking back, I can see that my initial reaction to that album had everything to do with me and what I was going through on my own. It’s kind of amazing to consider just how much life experiences shape our listening.
I don’t think I gave that album a fair shot until recently. I can’t pinpoint the year, exactly – but it was after I started writing this blog. I finally pulled out the original CD and played it again. It wasn’t nearly as strange-sounding as I remembered. I suppose I hear it with very different ears now. There’s still a fair amount of discomfort with songs like “Silva Halo”, “Buried in the Sand”, and even “Undergoing Treatment”. I hear a lot of sadness and pain in Simon’s singing. I also hear the ingenuity and experimentation loved by Nick and Warren. As Simon said, it was a difficult time for the band. It is clear, as I listen to the album again, that while the three may have been in the same physical space while recording – the disconnection is evident. Nathan Stack surmised that Medazzaland “…is about humans trying to understand and connect with one another — sometimes tenuously succeeding, other times failing.” (www.duranduran.com Medazzaland October 2017) His words read prophetic, if not for being twenty years post release.
In hindsight, I can say that it oddly represents a very difficult time in my life, too. I felt so disconnected to the world, you’d think that this album would have been my lifeline, and yet it just wasn’t. Simon says the album is like “Marmite”, you either love it or hate it. I just don’t think I was ready to hear the stories that this album was trying to share at the time.
I think that might be the silver lining. The music doesn’t cease to exist after a couple of decades. The songs are still there, ready to sing their tale and share their messages whenever we are ready to hear them with fresh ears.
On another note, I’ve really been back in California twenty years now…and more importantly…my daughter is about to turn 21 in a few months??