Can you believe we have reached Astronaut?! The reunion of the Fab Five?!? The glorious days of the 2000s?!? (perhaps that’s a bit of a stretch) Regardless, it is true. We have indeed arrived. Astronaut is Duran Duran’s eleventh studio album, released in September of 2004 on Epic Records. It was the first full album to be recorded by the original five members since Seven and the Ragged Tiger in 1983. The album peaked at #3 on the Official UK Albums chart, the highest-charting album for Duran Duran at that point, since 1983. It also peaked in the US at #17 on the Billboard 200.
The journey from the first phone call from John, Nick and Simon to Roger and Andy in 2001, all the way to the release of Astronaut was not without strife. The search for a record label was not an easy one, particularly since the band wanted to maintain control over their own destiny, and the then cash-poor music industry was (and is) terribly risk-averse, given it’s own growing pains during the rise of the internet. The band ended up embarking on a world tour in 2003, proving that this was not just a washed-up band from the 1980’s, stuck on delivering a sense of nostalgia to their now-fully grown fan base.
In the meantime, a sort of demo, or “teaser” CD had been created to showcase the band’s new work to potential labels and so forth, which inevitably ended up being leaked to the internet. Fans wasted no time copying and sharing the songs (“Virus”, “Sunrise”, “TV vs. Radio”, “Taste the Summer”, “Salt in the Rainbow”, and “Pretty Ones”) throughout the fan base, quickly becoming fan favorites that, to the dismay of many, did not all end up on the final track listing for the album. (Only Sunrise, and Taste the Summer are on the final album) a fact that is definitely “canonical lore” surrounding Astronaut. Another song, “Beautiful Colors”, was donated to FIFA to use as its Centennial song, but did not end up on the final album.
So, where does that leave us with “Sunrise”? The song was the first single off of Astronaut. Interestingly enough, a remixed version of “Sunrise” was also included on the soundtrack for Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and was fairly well-received by DJs as a club mix, receiving airplay well before Astronaut was released even though it was not released as a single from the soundtrack. However, because of this initial airplay, once the album version of Sunrise was released as a single, it felt like dated news, particularly since the remixed version had been done so well. While it is certainly speculative, there is perhaps an argument to be made that album promotion and momentum had been lost for releasing a version of a song as a single that much of the public had already heard in the months prior. However, for the case of this review, we will be reviewing the album version – with no comparison made to the Jason Nevins remix. Enough history, let’s take a listen!!
Audio & Video
Why only listen to a song when you can see a video too??
I’d forgotten what it is like to have lead guitar, and not just someone experimenting with ways to construct sound, on a Duran Duran song. Say what you will, but there is something about the tug of war between synthesizers/keyboards and guitar that gets me. I like a true lead guitar sometimes. Yet, I distinctly remember hearing this for the first time and complaining because I didn’t think the guitar was loud enough. (I was picky, I guess?)
When I listen now, I can hear each of the instruments, and just as they did back in 1980-something, they all have their moments of being featured. The bass does its job of knitting the music together, driving the music forward. The drums don’t lag, they push the beat, the synthesizers create the spacey sort of mood, and the keyboards give the melody that top level laciness that really sets the whole song off.
Let’s talk vocals just a bit. The gift of hindsight tells me that yeah, there’s quite a bit of strain going on with Simon’s throat as he reaches to hit some of the higher notes, specifically when he’s singing at a louder volume. Even so, when he’s not forcing it, his voice sounds great. I like the verses best when he isn’t straining, and it is fantastic to hear Andy singing backup. I’d forgotten how great they sound together.
As far as songs go, Sunrise is so positive and happy, it’s hard not to feel it, never mind that it is the album-opener for what was the first fab five album in twenty years. The lyrics put into song exactly how I felt at the time – it was a new beginning for a band I’d loved since I was ten. It was moment of pure perfection and joy. The song makes you want to stand up, raise your hands into the air and sing along with the band….which is exactly what still happens when they play the song live, too. While I tend to feel that the production is the one possible area that is overdone, it still isn’t nearly as effect-driven as some of the more experimental songs of their past. Sunrise is a very well-constructed, solid, song announcing at the time that yes, the Fab Five was back, and they weren’t f*cking going anywhere. (Well, 4/5 of them didn’t, anyway)
This is one of those songs, I think, that is difficult to be objective about. If Rhonda’s introduction to the reunion’s back story wasn’t enough, many of us remember what it was like when we first heard the song, first time saw it live, etc. Even today, it is one song of the post-reunion era that has not gone away in the band’s setlist with each new album. It has become a staple of their live show. Of course, they have, at times, added some additional song to it when playing it live. The fact that they were able to successfully blend New Moon on Monday with it tells you everything you need to know. It is a song that truly fits Duran Duran.
As I attempt to listen to the song with some sort of objectivity, I notice that it really does have all of the classic elements of Duran Duran. The time is right at about 3 minutes and 30 seconds. After all, pop songs are not supposed to be that long. Then, it has verse, chorus, verse pattern in the usual way with a bridge, a little past two minutes in. If all of that was not enough, let’s acknowledge the instrumentation. Each instrument is definitely present and accounted for. There are moments when guitars catch my attention and other times the drums do. Keyboards are present as is the bass, providing the solid foundation. That all screams Duran Duran to me. There is not a tremendous amount of effects and they let the instruments speak for themselves.
If all of that was not enough, there is the topic of the song. It is about sunrise, something celestial, which feels so Duran. After all, this is the band that has written songs about planets, moons, space, etc. This fits right in. Adding even more to that, there is an optimism woven into the lyrics. This song is about a future. A new future. A bright future. It is full of hope for something better. When people discuss Duran’s songs as being light, fun, danceable, this is what they meant. It doesn’t mean it is mindless but full of hope, optimism, a believe that things are going to go well.
Like I just said, the song isn’t super deep. It isn’t full of some of the more poetic lyrics ever but that simple message is a good one. Besides that, probably, my only criticism is the vocals. I love the additional backing vocals but Simon does not always sound so smooth. It doesn’t take away anything from the song but keeps it in that nice four cocktail range!