I feel as though the past week has been a whirlwind, and I’m not even in the band! Each day has a variety: things to watch, articles to read, new music, and chart news I couldn’t have even imagined. Like many of you have mentioned, it has been difficult to keep up – a very nice problem to have these days.
In doing all of the above, or as much as I have been able, I’ve noticed a few things. I’m curious if I’m the only one, and since this is My Own Way, let’s get to it! I’m outspoken as ever, and raring to go.
First of all, I’m thrilled to see so much promotion going on. I’ve seen many fans comment on how great it has been, and I too would agree. But has it really been that much more than Paper Gods?
Paper Gods promotion had everything from print magazines to TV appearances. They were on the cover of Billboard (don’t you remember the dizzying effect of the black and white geometric striping with yellow backdrop?), among several others. I remember for a short while it felt like the band was once again everywhere. But here’s the main difference: their promo seemed to mostly be in the US. So for the rest of the world, and in particular the UK where most of the band calls home, it was as though there was very little. This complaint was seen and heard fairly consistently online, as people cited the lack of chart success. Oddly, despite these claims, the album hit the UK albums chart at #5 – becoming their (then) 9th Top 5 album overall. In the US, Paper Gods entered the Billboard 200 chart at #10. Not a bad start, but the proof is in the pudding, as they say. During the very next week, the album fell to 76, and on down the week following, although at some point in January of 2016 it did reenter the US chart at #45. In Italy, the album peaked at #2. Not too shabby for a band that had been around for nearly four decades at that point, but the album just didn’t have staying power on the charts.
Lately, there has been quite a bit of promotion taking place in the UK. Television shows, special filming(s), tapings, a couple of very intimate gigs in their hometown of Birmingham, and a barrage of print media. Is it mere coincidence that with all of these goings-on, the band is currently in a neck-and-neck fight with none other than Elton John for the #1 spot on the UK charts? I highly doubt it. Press matters, and fans matter. Streaming counts, and the more people hear about the success of Future Past, the more likely that people beyond the solid fan base will give it a whirl. That’s the type of momentum the band needs to gain a foothold on the charts that will last beyond the first week of release. I hope to see the promotion continue, capitalizing on momentum that is just beginning to get rolling. May it keep steam right across the pond, and roll throughout the US.
Between the concerted effort to get Duran Duran back in the hearts and minds of people, along with the various special pressings, colored vinyl, CDs, cassettes and who-knows-what-other-editions of Future Past that are available, surely this is not an album that will quickly disappear from conversations. The music is solid, the quality evident, and the album stands up defiantly against thoughts that Duran Duran is on their way out. This is a band that used the first forty years as a warm-up for what is happening right now.
It wouldn’t be right though, if I didn’t comment on a certain talking point the band has chosen to utilize during their press junket for Future Past. As with nearly any Duran Duran album, the question of guitars – more specifically, guitarists – comes up. In nearly every interview, the band has excitedly spoke of working with Graham Coxon. They speak of how incredibly innovative he was, and how he came to the studio with ideas of how to play with them, and what sounds he wanted to include. All great things. Had they simply left it at how wonderful Graham was to work with, speaking directly of his talent, that would have been enough and it would have been great. But this is a band that likes to make comparisons, and they’re not always positive.
I’ve been a fan of Duran Duran since the 80s, and as far back as I can remember – probably beginning with an interview that Simon and Nick did to promote Seven and the Ragged Tiger – the band has fallen into what I believe is a very bad habit of disparaging their own prior work in order to highlight whatever new project or album they’re currently promoting. This holds true even with, if not especially so, with their personnel changes. Despite fan claims of the contrary, the band is human. I suspect that over the years, as Andy left and Warren joined, Warren being asked to leave so Andy could rejoin, Andy leaving again…and so on…there had to be quite a bit of anger. If nothing else, there is certainly a bit of saving face going on from time to time. It isn’t too surprising to have heard the band speak poorly of one guitar player or another. I can understand personal feelings, but wow. This time, they’ve been rather fond of putting Graham Coxon on a pedestal that only Andy…Andy FREAKING Taylor who has left the band not just once, but twice….seems to be able to reach, according to the band.
It isn’t that I don’t think Andy is a fantastic guitarist. I do, to the extent of when Andy wanted to be there with the band. I would not want to re-do the Astronaut years, because I don’t think Andy was fully committed at the time, and certainly not towards the end. But for me, Andy is as much of the Fab Five as John, Nick, Roger or Simon. So yes, he’s loved. It also isn’t that I think Warren was so great, or so terrible for that matter, that he doesn’t deserve equal credit (or disdain). My personal irritation for Warren’s attitude, ego, thought process, and quite frankly his tin-hat syndrome of being a flat earther and 9/11 denier colors my bias. I admit it! I also know that without him, there would be no Ordinary World or Come Undone. The band wouldn’t have matured in their writing and recording in the same way, and let’s face it, rewriting history doesn’t work. I just don’t understand why the band would have thought they needed to make the other guitar players sound less innovative, in order to make Graham Coxon sound better. Did they need to do that? The proof of his talent is right there in the music. There’s no reason to make Warren sound like less of a guitarist. Anyone can and should be able to hear exactly what Coxon contributed, and that should stand up completely on its own merit without destroying someone else’s. Why is that so hard?
However, it’s more than even that. I would be completely remiss if I didn’t mention their current touring guitarist. Dom has been with the band since 2005, whether standing in for Andy, or being their dedicated touring player. He has contributed and written on every album since Red Carpet Massacre, until Future Past. For this album though, he was noticeably absent. He’s not on the album at all, no writing credit, certainly no playing. Sure, there was a pandemic. Dom was writing and recording his own album. Maybe that got in the way. I don’t know. I do know though, that during interviews when the band is asked about guitarists and they talk about how they’ve struggled with guitar players since Andy, that’s a direct hit at Dom. They speak of a lack of innovation, and how they want a guitar player that isn’t trying to impress them but is trying to write with them. Ouch. And then, there’s the performances.
Up until just before Paper Gods, I would have thought Dom was on track to become a family member to Taylor, Rhodes, Le Bon et. al. He was in videos, they took pictures with him, he seemed to be staying at the same hotels, and getting much of the same treatment as the band themselves. Something happened before Paper Gods, though. I don’t know what. Maybe it was Dom, maybe it was the band. Maybe it was all of them. I really am not sure, but I noticed a definite, but subtle difference. He was relegated to being one of the supporting players, and as a whole that group stopped staying in most of the same hotels as the band. I didn’t see nearly the same amount of photos including him. Rather than hanging out with the other four, he always seemed to be elsewhere. Anytime the band would walk a red carpet, the supporting players (including Dom) would be ushered in through the back. And these are just a few things I can mention off the top of my head. It was different, but I suppose expected. I let it go without saying much, although I did comment to Dom that if he wasn’t careful, they’d start having him travel (on planes) in coach again.
On to Future Past. Maybe only a few notice, but he’s been relegated to the back most recently. Backup vocals (of all things) for Tonight United?? His microphone was pushed so far back at the Jonathon Ross Show that he was in the shadows. He certainly didn’t get camera time, in fact I think they tried to ignore him as much as possible. He didn’t even have to show up for a couple of the earlier television tapings – they had Graham Coxon mime it all (sorry people, but those performances weren’t “live”, they were lip-synced and that’s just the way it is). When they travel, the band goes in one direction and the supporting “cast” goes the other. It’s weird, to say the least, and it isn’t because I think Dom deserves more after being with the band for what – sixteen years, give or take? It’s because at one time, he WAS getting more. Maybe the band wants to highlight the fact that he isn’t in the band. Great, but why now, and not before? It all seems to be going backwards.
Here’s the bottom line for me: it is true that I’ve supported Dom since day one. I wanted to be on board with the band and their decisions. Andy had just left the building, so to speak, and Dom had to be the guy to step into those shoes whether they fit or not. I cheered him on when no one really even knew his name. I’m not ashamed of that, but I’m also not dumb. Something changed along the way. Something is going on. If I can see it and point it out, so can other people. Nick saying that Dom “will always be there” doesn’t really lessen the blow when I go to watch a performance and see right off the bat that Dom is basically playing in the shadows. What’s next, moving him to side stage? Backstage?? Why would the band want that after all of this time? I’m really not sure, but I do know that for this fan, it is especially painful to see, and I’m not just imagining it.