1993’s self-titled opus marked the first phoenix-like rise from the ashes for Duran Duran. However, 1995’s Thank You firmly brought them back down to Earth. Despite it not being as bad as most people remember it being (at least in my opinion), it completely torpedoed Duran’s career. The fact that the band’s cast (which seemed to be firmly locked in for a time) was in flux once again also contributed to Duran’s freefall during the late Nineties and the early part of the new century.
With this entry in our guide to the music of Duran Duran (I keep being tempted to write their name in as J’ran J’ran because that’s how the band members pronounce it), we look at the last decade and a half (or so) in the careers of the boys from Birmingham. Once again, I’m joined by my buddies Carlos Halston and Jesse, so sit back, grab an exotic model or three, and let us bicker like the nerds we are about the music of one of the finest pop bands of our time. Cool? Cool.
Carlos: After an entertaining initial flurry, encompassing spoken word… Eastern music… Rio-inspired dance pop (the first time they thought sounding like THEMSELVES was a good idea again?)… and Oasis-inspired mid-tempo rock anthem, things get a bit odd. Yes, “Silva Halo,” I’m talkin bout you. Listen. I don’t mind Duran getting all atmospheric and experimental. Matter of fact, I normally love when they do that. But this is just dreary. It even makes you begin to wonder whether the tracks that preceded it were maybe drearier than you remembered. Bloodless, purposeless music. Some (quite) good moments follow, but the sound was of their personality slipping away. Things were getting wobbly.
Blerd: Two things jump out at me here immediately. One is that it’s a lot less hooky than the average Duran Duran album. It sounds like a Nick Rhodes art project, almost. On the occasions when the songs sound Duran-ish, they sound like they’re being performed by a Duran Duran tribute band. Bloodless is a good descriptor here.
Jesse: I loved this album. This was the tour that I ?rst saw them on and they were amazing. I remember the power kept shorting out at the end of their set at the Orpheum in Boston and they ?nally just said “to hell with it” and ?nished “Rio” with almost no electricity on stage. The entire audience sang with Simon and it was so incredible.
Carlos: John Taylor left before this one and boy is he missed. A fine album, but the sex… the swagger… is beginning to disappear.
Jesse: “Out of My Mind” and “Buried in the Sand” have to be 2 of my favorite Duran tracks (In my Top 10 of all time for them maybe?) but I still love the opening trio of the title track, “Big Bang Generation” and “Electric Barbarella”. The album’s sitting in my car as I type in fact.
Blerd: I’m assuming you’re not typing while driving. Jesse, you’ve got a lot to answer for.
Pop Trash (2000)
Blerd: Duran Duran moves to Hollywood Records, home of…???
Jesse: Um, I can barely name a song off of this. I know when it came out I was sick and I asked my then-girlfriend-now-wife to pick me up a copy on her way home from work. I was definitely excited to get it. Now, I’m not so excited that I still own it.
Carlos: Did I mention a wobble? Let’s get the bad stuff outta the way first here. Was anybody really hoping to hear Duran Duran as earnest country-balladeers (“The Sun Doesn’t Shine Forever”), or as prog-Pumpkins rockers (“Last Day On Earth,” “Playing With Uranium”)?
Blerd: I actually like “The Sun Doesn’t Shine Forever”. Sounds kinda Stones-y. Although I guess it should sound more Duran-y?
Carlos: Though they often sounded unrecognizable as Duran Duran, they did toss off more than a few gems here. “Lava Lamp” and “Hallucinating Elvis” are quite fun… “Someone Else Not Me” is as beautiful as “Pop Trash Movie” is majestic. And “Starting To Remember” is probably their best song that never gets called “their best song.”
Blerd: I’ll have to concur here. Maybe it’s because my expectations were lowered, but this is actually a better album than Medazzaland. The mid-slow tempo stuff is all solid and it’s a lot better constructed than anything from the previous album. Still-nowhere near up to the standard of classic Duran material. A reboot was definitely in order.
Carlos: The world welcomes the original line-up with sold-out tours, a re-assessment of their legacy, and countless lifetime achievement awards – so why do they sound so apologetic on this album???
Blerd: You think? It sounds a little more pro forma than their last couple of albums, but I think that’s a good thing.
Carlos: Unwisely, the re-fab five decide to completely ignore the personality of their earliest work and set about fashioning a ‘let’s be mature… cover all bases… have a conscience… hope there’s an “Ordinary World” on here” type of album. Much of it is quite good (“Astronaut” and “Nice” are good starting points – and “Sunrise” DOES have a high-steppin Russian disco feel that more than holds it’s own against the classics live), but too often they’re content to plod-by-numbers.
Blerd: I’ll admit that I don’t like it as much now as I did originally, but it’s still pretty listenable. “Bedroom Toys” is a funky little jam. And “Sunrise” has got that anthemic feel.
Jesse: This came out of nowhere for me. I saw something about “Sunrise” and was all like “DD have a new album coming out?” and then I did some searching and saw that the (most famous) 5 were back together. There are so many great songs on this. “Nice” is still one of my favorites. The closer “Still Breathing” was so dark for them and such a perfect album ender. Seriously, “Want You More!”, the title track, “Bedroom Toys”…this was such and instant classic for them. Futuristic DD while retaining their new wave roots.
Blerd: Dallas Austin was a good choice here for production. He does the rock/dance thing very well.
Carlos: There just isn’t enough of their character here. Where are the mental Nick sounds… the cocaine bass… and on and on… Far too many songs with genius parts that end up dissolving into menopausal mid-tempo mush. (loads of amazing demos though – go find “Salt In The Rainbow,” “TV vs Radio,” “Beautiful Colours,” and “Pretty Ones”)
Red Carpet Massacre (2007)
Carlos: Oh dear, the’ve lost the guitarist again…
Jesse: I heard a bootleg of the live shows they were doing on Broadway before this came out and I really liked how it sounded. To me, it’s a great concept but it really falls flat on CD.
Carlos: So… listen. This is probably the most divisive record in Duran history. Not only did they align themselves with contemporary r’n’b/hip-hop (with Duran’s dance roots, I couldn’t figure out why people were so upset about this), but they also scrapped an entire album (“Reportage” – recorded with original guitarist Andy Taylor) to do so. Being a MASSIVE fan of Timbaland (particularly 1995-1998), I was tremendously excited for this.
Blerd: Even as someone who can take or leave Timbaland most of the time, I was excited for this.
Jesse: I respect the work they did with Timberlake and Timbaland and this one is definitely a guilty pleasure of mine. I still love “Nite-Runner”, Skin Divers” and especially “Tempted”.
Carlos: Too much of the album is the worst of both worlds though. LeBon howling artlessly while Tim and Nate Hills cruise on autopilot. If you dig, there are real highlights here (“Skin Divers,” “She’s Too Much,” the verses of “Red Carpet Massacre” and “The Valley”), but, for the most part, this is a botched experiment.
Blerd: I definitely didn’t like this as much as I expected to. Whereas Astronaut sounded like a band genuinely excited to play together again, Red Carpet Massacre sounded like a band gunning for a hit. No bueno. I think Danja is a solid songwriter and producer (and I think he was the real reason for Timbaland’s mid-decade resurgence in the pop world) and I don’t mind Timberlake either. I just don’t think this was a good fit.
All You Need Is Now (2011)
Carlos: Way too early to tell where this sits in the Duran saga, but after living with it for a couple months, it DOES still taste good.
Jesse: The first 4 tracks are some of the band’s strongest to date. “Blame the Machines” is such a classic Duran Duran song. That’s the thing about this album, the whole thing is just unmistakably Duran throughout. Kudos to you, Mr. Ronson.
Blerd: I’m still digesting this one, but as of right now, I have to give ultimate props to Mark Ronson, who managed to perfectly capture the “Duran”-ness of Duran Duran.
Carlos: I’m fairly certain that if the album were 8 blank tracks + “The Man Whole Stole A Leopard,” it would STILL be their best since “Seven and the Ragged Tiger.” Shocking that this has much more to do with how amazing this song is than how intermittently disappointing the intervening albums were. Plenty on here to get the die-hards exited: “Girl Panic” drips Duran DNA… if you squint a bit, “Leave A Light On” looks like “Save A Prayer”… aren’t those keyboards in “All You Need Is Now” a bit like “New Moon On Monday” (ARE they the kybrds from “NMOM”???)? This WILL sound good live. Track down the (currently) Euro-only bonus track “Mediterranea.” Wonderful Song.
Jesse: I’ll admit when I ?rst heard the lead single, I was not impressed. Hearing it over and over in context with the (mostly) full album, I love it.
Special thanks to Carlos and Jesse for their hard work here, and also a big shout out to Durandy for his words of appreciation!
Most of all, thanks to Simon, Nick, John, Roger, Andy, Warren and Sterling (!) for thirty years of careless and not-so careless memories!
Incoming search terms:
- andy taylor duran duran