Monday, April 4, 2011

Duran Duran: Rio vs. All You Need Is Now

Her name is Rio [1982] and she dances.

Thankfully Duran Duran is a band that has never wilted, cowered or curled up in response to the harsh criticisms the group has had to endure over the years. The band is far too good for that despite what those with poisoned pens would have you believe. Duran Duran [Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Roger Taylor and at one time Andy Taylor and Warren Cuccurullo] is an ensemble that has made some of the most delicious, primal pop music of any act over the course of over three decades. That's no easy feat. How many bands can tout they have four of their original five members still in the fray? How many bands are still around after thirty years period?

Critics, the same ones that have had the band in their sights almost since their inception [jealous over those bare-chested babes in Girls On Film no doubt], refer to them as "bubblegum" and have discarded them as unimportant even on the eve of the release of their latest effort All You Need Is Now [2010- digitally; 2011- CD], their 14th official recording [Arcadia and The Power Station not included].

Duran Duran worked with Director David Lynch in 2011 on some concert footage. Lynch superimposed Lynch-style CGI over the live clips for effect. Despite poorly conceived effects, and terribly pointless ones at that, these same critics classified Lynch as a "genius" while referring to Duran Duran as "irrelevant". I don't know how relevant any pop act is to be honest, but it was clear to me David Lynch didn't see things this way, clearly enjoying his own gob of Duran-based Bazooka Joe. Nevertheless, I would have preferred it if Lynch had removed the silly computer effects and substituted them with two dwarf lovers walking about the stage. Now that might have impressed me. Duran Duran has always been a band of equal parts style and substance, which is why an artist like David Lynch, or the late Andy Warhol, understood the band. These guys are a freight train of ideas and no amount of vitriol for them has ever slowed their passion for making the music. The group's pleasure in presentation has been part of their undoing. They just respect that aspect of the whole package, the process of creation.

The world of pop music has always enjoyed a share of manufactured girl bands, boy bands or teen icons, and Duran Duran certainly enjoyed that level of attention at one time [at once the curse and gift of handsome, good looks], but the big difference, these guys were the real deal. They had the talent. It wasn't a facade. It wasn't a scheme. It wasn't smoke and mirrors. These guys made their music. They write and compose their songs. The late, great Composer John Barry could vouch for them [See A View To A Kill]. Their music clearly had soul and today, I'm pleased to say, they still do. I'm more than willing to admit when they overreach and a project deserves some criticism, take parts of Liberty [1990] for example, but more often than not these guys have hit their marks always offering a new spin or new look to what is uniquely, inherently Duran.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Duran Duran for an interview in New York City at the Mercer Hotel in support of their Pop Trash [2000] effort. My brother was my wing man. We had a ball. With a recorder, pen and paper in hand and a passion for music my questions were ready. My first interview was with former Frank Zappa guitarist, Warren Cuccurullo in the dressing room of CBS This Morning surrounded by trays of fresh fruit. The rock star life isn't always hot babes, but that would have been better. His input should never be discounted. He had a strong hand in holding the band together through its commercially dark period. It was nice to see him be there for a return to success through the release of Ordinary World and The Wedding Album [1993]. He deserved it. The remainder of the interview ended with Nick Rhodes and Simon Le Bon in the lobby of the Mercer Hotel.

The interview and ensuing article was for the now defunct, but once fine magazine Lexicon, established by David Richards. I assisted in the cover idea with all of the provided JPEGs and from what I was told it was one of the best sellers of his magazine up to that point I'm proud to say. I've posted an image of that cover here in the entry. Further, as you all know as frequent visitors of this site, I took each and every one of those images from their music videos used for that cover. The interview, which I did write, was so large it ran two issues. It was a special moment and I was particularly proud of the interview itself. I'll never forget I had left the notebook on the recorder during the interview with Warren. The audio on the recorder was severely muffled and hard to extract, but I managed. That's what nerves will do to you. No amount of preparation readies you for coming face to face with your childhood idols or the former Missing Persons guitarist. It was surreal.

The cover to Lexicon. See if you can make out all the videos.

Duran Duran has never gone away as hard as those in the media try in their efforts to build up their musicians and in turn destroy them. Duran Duran is one of those charmed acts that has survived that calculated effort by the forces beyond their control. Fortunately for them, and the fans the band have always respected, the group has enjoyed a new found respect and acceptance. They have sustained and endured. Generating a credibility beyond the pigeonhole of the iconic 80s status, Duran Duran, unlike so many others, have escaped the box. They have emerged a band still making innovative, energized, stylized pop beyond the years of stereotyping.

Producer Nile Rodgers [Chic, David Bowie, Madonna] understood their passion and talents and produced some of their greatest output of the 1980s always touting their abilities and talents.

Duran Duran have returned again. Yes, you can't keep a good band down. Their newest effort is All You Need Is Now. Produced by Mark Ronson, it's being heralded as the recording that should have followed Rio. Like any band, there's always a spin to promotional efforts and the latest project is essentially being touted as Rio Part 2 or Rio II. Is that a fair assessment? With the onset of technology, age and time, how could it be? Still, there are elements to the production that certainly lend themselves to the chemistry of song that was Rio's perfection. I must admit, as a fan of Producer Alex Sadkin, I welcomed the band's third outing, the one that really followed Rio, Seven And The Ragged Tiger [1984]. The high production value took some ribbing, but Sadkin, who worked with Thompson Twins and Arcadia and who has since passed away, managed to build upon the band's style and sound offering something a little different. Today, I still consider the first three Duran recordings to be near perfect classics and essential to any CD library [along with the Arcadia project].

After that, it's a crap-shoot and a bit hit and miss, but there are many highlights on Notorious [1986] especially, followed by strong selections on Big Thing [1988] and a handful on Liberty [1990]. The Wedding Album really righted the commercial ship. Following the generally forgettable covers album Thank You [1995], Medazzaland righted the artistic side of Duran. Pop Trash had its moments. Ultimately, it was the departure of Cuccurullo and the re-arrival of original band mates John Taylor and Roger Taylor for Astronaut [2004] that truly reignited that old chemistry. Astronaut was like the launch party for vintage Duran. With the train back on track Red Carpet Massacre [2007] and All You Need Is Now place that old MTV flag back squarely between the ears with their interesting touch and musical flourishes.

All You Need Is Now's Blame The Machines and The Man Who Stole A Leopard are two standout tracks that genuinely tap into the Rio oeuvre. If the former harkens back to My Own Way or Hold Back The Rain, the latter hints of The Chauffeur dynamic. Leave A Light On is Save A Prayer, but again the new works offers new touches and new ideas that certainly demonstrate why the new recording would draw the comparisons to Rio. Girl Panic! indeed channels their self-titled's Girls On Film and is clearly a standout for some. I've always felt Duran had an ability to elevate even some of the weaker songs by sheer musicianship, chemistry and heart like a fine actor aiding a middling film. All You Need Is Now has those moments too, but it's a solid work and arguably their best in some time, maybe since Rio. There's certainly a grace to it. Hearing the touches to the new Duran Duran recording opened me to remembering Rio, and that classic painting by Nagel that landed the cover. The sheer energy of that classic recording inspired me to memorialize it here. Hands down it is one of the best recordings of the 1980s. As I mentioned, the first three Duran Duran albums [as it were] are particularly strong. Though, their self-titled debut [1981] and Rio offer a similar kind of unrelenting, raw, dynamic energy of a band that is moving in a direction reminiscent of a well synchronized timing device. The late Colin Thurston [Talk Talk] produced both projects and they are probably the most closely tied stylistically. They stand apart from Seven And The Ragged Tiger with their cohesive uniformity. Still, those firsts are the must own triumvirate of Duran recordings.

What qualifies coverage here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic, of course, is if a recording is near perfect. From Rio to The Chauffeur, Rio offers a nine song gem. While the nine tracks stand on their own and the notes etched forever in memory [their isn't a girl over thirty that wouldn't toss their tops at the drop of that title track], the band's flair for the visual was equally striking and profound on our young minds. I'm not sure how I pulled it off, but as a kid I managed to enjoy Duran's flair for naked women by obtaining VHS copies of Girls On Film [Night Version] and the slinky sexy of The Chauffeur. With Hungry Like The Wolf, Rio and Save A Prayer it was like watching an exotic, near erotic film. The band captured the imagination of a generation [and the testosterone]. With those soft core videos but a distant memory, the music lives on. I suppose that is the greatest case for Duran Duran's success as a band. The music, without the aid of MTV, is infinitely listenable and stands on its own as music. The videos simply facilitated the delivery of that message and the group's desire to interact with fans as a multi-media production unit. As for Rio, the haunting Lonely In Your Nightmare, the sensual The Chauffeur, the runway energy of My Own Way to the frantic panting of Hungry Like The Wolf and New Religion live on. Rio remains as exciting, fresh and visceral with its pumping Taylor guitar and bass lines as it did when it arrived back in 1982. This is a driving, sweating beast of a pop record and those who wish to discount it because the group decided to take the name of a science fiction villain from the film Barbarella [1968] starring Jane Fonda, or apply a little make-up really aren't giving the band its due or playing fair. Between Union Of The Snake and Wild Boys there was something always a little sci-fi about Duran.

Duran Duran remain as compelling and interesting as pop acts go three decades on and while they may not be as dark, serious or somber as Echo And The Bunnymen, New Order or The Smiths, they are no less important to the legacy of pop music. It's funny, thinking about it, fans of Duran Duran have spent their lives on defense making their case for the band. Some of us make apologies some don't, but why? The band speaks for itself. Are they merely tolerable or just part of the scenery? This is an act we embrace and we're happy to see still making music. Rhodes and Le Bon aren't inclined to listen to anyone at this point anyway. Artistically they have followed their intelligent, pop instincts for decades with little concern over what those think that would otherwise tear them down. So, again, are they relevant? Actually, I suppose they really are. They've certainly played the soundtrack to my life. Am I relevant? Aren't we all? Yes.

Duran Duran Discography:

Duran Duran [1981] * Rio [1982] * Seven And The Ragged Tiger [1983] * Arena [1984] So Red The Rose [Arcadia] [1985] * The Power Station [The Power Station] [1985] Notorious [1986] * Big Thing [1988] Liberty [1990] Duran Duran [The Wedding Album] [1993] Thank You [1995] Living In Fear [The Power Station] [1996] Medazzaland [1997] Pop Trash [2000] Astronaut [2004] Red Carpet Massacre [2007] All You Need Is Now [2010] * *essential


Ray Rousell said...

Great post!! My favorite's gotta be Hungry like the wolf, followed by Skin Trade.

J.D. said...

I loved these guys when I was young and anticipated each new album as it came out but kinda lost track of them after WILD BOYS. I still think that "The Chauffeur" is probably my fave song of theirs. There is such a haunting, atmospheric quality to the song. And, of course, the video lingers for its lovely ladies rendered in stylish B&W.

Excellent post. I quite enjoyed this trip down memory lane. It's good to hear that they are still plugging along.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thank you Ray! You are so right. Hungry is classic! Still sounds amazing to this day.

Skin Trade is a remarkable dish of style and substance with a terrific vocal by Le Bon. Notorious is a fine collection too maybe their classiest piece of work with production by Nile Rodgers.

Thank you Ray. SFF

J.D. I agree. Chauffeur is one of my all time favorites. I will tell you that this new recording is a genuine throwback to the Rio era. It's not perfect in the same way, but their is instrumentation at work that definitely is meant to recall those memories.

And by the way, if I recall Duran Duran don't even appear in the video for The Chauffeur. Yeah, I'd say that's pretty damn artistic for music video back in the day. The music of Rio is simply flawless. Thanks again J.D. SFF.

le0pard13 said...

Great post, SFF! I never associated this band to the bubblegum crowd. I think their music epitomized the music of this decade, and kicked back at the leftovers of the 70s in high style. That's great you got to meet these guys, too! While it's not my fave Bond, the best thing about A View to a Kill is their theme track.

These music posts of yours remain a highlight, my friend. Keep them coming! Thanks, SFF.

p.s., I continue to quite a soft spot for Girls on Film, for maybe obvious reasons ;-).

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Nice to hear. Thanks L13. By the way, Nick Rhodes was a heck of a gentleman. He took his time during the interview and spent every minute he had with me before getting pulled away. He was a gent as much as he is a creative genius.

Simon was intoxicated through most of the interview, but he's Simon. He's a trip!

Couldn't agree with you more about A View To A Kill. GREAT song and the best thing about that weak final film from Roger Moore. I loved Moore by the way. He was my favorite, but he took it one too far. Octopussy was a close call as it was. Speaking of .... I like Girls On Film for the same reasons, especially the mud wrestling. Perfect! Thanks my friend sff.

Gonzo Henson said...

I'm a bit surprised that no mention was made of the band Japan, which was most active between 1977 and 1981, and is argued to have spearheaded the New Romantics movement that spawned and influenced bands such as Japan. It's believed that Simon LeBon wanted David Sylvian--Japan's lead singer--to do some production work with them but Sylvian, antisocial misfit that he is, declined the offer.

If you haven't heard their stuff, I suggest you start in with their third album, "Quiet Life" which was produced by John Punter, who was also responsible for many Roxy Music recordings. There's definitely a Roxy influence there, but you can also sense that the band is trying to move into previous unchartered waters.

A warning: the first two Japan albums--"Adolescent Sex" and "Obscure Alternatives"--are quite different in style than their later work and more of interest to completists or geeky pop culture historians.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hi Gonzo.

Yes, Japan is undeniably a huge influence on the New Romantic movement. It's no slight of the band or other acts like Roxy Music, Ultravox or Spandau Ballet or others.

It was quite a wave of great music. No doubt about it.

I'm not incredibly familiar with Japan, but I'll go and listen to those suggestions you offered me. Thank you.

Andrew Golub said...

What a lovely, heartfelt blog to discover! It's always a thrill to find a thoughtful spotlight on Duran Duran from someone who knows what the band is about. I have a particular affinity for Duran's history, as an archivist and author of a recently released, limited-edition art book: "Beautiful Colors: The Posters of Duran Duran," chronicling the band’s career through selected posters from my archive.

If anyone might be interested in the book, I'd love to hear from you! This 260-page, hardcover book reflects the band's history from 1978 to 2013, with compelling insights from many artists and a touching foreword from Nick Rhodes. Duran Duran has called the book “magnificent" and I hope you don't mind me writing to bring it to your attention. I designed "Beautiful Colors" for great fans like the ones I see here!

All my best,

Andrew Golub

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...


Thanks for the kind words and all the very best with your book.

Andrew - tell me. Why was the song Beautiful Colors not included on All You Need Is Now?

I discovered that song from a mutual fan and it's brilliant. Sounds like your book is brilliant as well - a good word when you're talking about colors.

Take care