DURAN DURAN REVIEWS:
Duran Duran (1981)
Duran Duran (1981)
Album Score: 12
Duran Duran were a herky-jerky new romantic group whose sole purpose was to give a means for all the stylin' kids of the early '80s to impress all their friends with awesome dance moves. I'm not a stylin' kid of the early '80s for three reasons, and yet I listen to Duran Duran's first album and enjoy the crap out of it. I don't have any excuse for that, and I don't see why I need to look for one; these are hella catchy songs! When it comes to catchy songs, I don't care who created them or why they were created; I just wanna spend the rest of my life playing them on my stereo.
You might be surprised to learn that Duran Duran were a lot more than just a silly pop act at first. They had some very serious artistic inclinations, which is something that I think that America forgets about. Only a year after the release of this debut album, they became international superstars known for attracting droves of fawning teenagers to their shows, but here in this debut they were disciples of Berlin Trilogy-era David Bowie and Brian Eno, Gary Numan, and Japan. Naturally, Duran Duran were interested in the more mainstream side of those things, since most of these are in fact dance songs.
If you want to hear a real mega art-school musical masterpiece on here, you needn't look further than “Tel Aviv,” an absorbing and brilliant electronic instrumental that puts you right in the middle of the title city. (Not that I've ever been to Tel Aviv, but I've seen it in movies! Just as good as the real thing, I say!) That song not only incorporates a lot of Middle Eastern textures and themes, but it surprisingly very naturally works in a herky-jerky new romantic bass-line and a catchy melody brought to us from a bending violin synthesizer. Man... There were so many ways for that track to have gone wrong, but it's a mind-boggling success. These guys get so into it that they even had someone chanting Jewish-sounding gibberish in the background. It's really a brilliant concoction. If it wasn't for the herky-jerky beat, you probably wouldn't believe it was from the same guys who did “Hungry Like the Wolf.”
Most of this other stuff is far more straightforward dance-oriented stuff, all of which has their famous herky-jerky rhythms. And, really, I can't get enough of 'em. “Girls on Film” starts things off right away on a very high note; it's one of those songs that gives me that nagging inclination to off my chair and do an awesome '80s dance! Of course I don't because I'm quite lazy, and I'd probably sprain my ankle. But anyway, the great thing about the song is not just the rhythm—it's very easy to make a rhythm, after all—but it's that freaking infectious riff! It's very simple, but it's great and I get it stuck in my head and like it there. Simon Le Bon and his dark and smooth vocals proves right away to have the perfect vocal chords for such music as the lyrics super models seems to roll off his lips. That's not the only song on here, and pretty much all of them have a catchy melody and a fun dance beat. It's pretty rare that I run across a mainstream pop album that is as consistent as this.
I know that any respectable rock 'n' roll fan is supposed to be “offended” by electronic drum and cheesy pop-guitars, but I love the sound that Duran Duran crafted for themselves. They might employ electronic drums, but at least they're crunchy! Their guitars might be extremely disciplined, but they have a rather gritty and exciting tone to them. They usually even manage to bring in some minimal background synthesizer textures to help create an absorbing drugged-up atmosphere. The best instrument of them all is of course that ultra-clear bass-line that faithfully plays some sort of disco groove, which is oftentimes just as catchy as the main vocal melody itself. What a fun album to listen to. Some of these songs are better than others, but as a whole, I can't get enough of it.
Before I get all you pop historians on my case, I'll acknowledge that Duran Duran didn't originate this sound—not even close—but they at least proved to be worthy to carry its torch. I mean, someone had to, right? And it might as well have been from this group, because they could make their songs sparkle. Indeed, I do wish that Duran Duran spent their following albums expanding on their artistic visions, because “Tel Aviv” is really very compelling, but they were clearly more interested in getting massive radio exposure. Pity. But I guess there's no crime in that. I really like listening to “Rio” whenever it pops up in the grocery store, and I'm not being sarcastic.
Read the track reviews:
Album Score: 11
Duran Duran were the first mainstream '80s pop-rock act that I ever really liked, and only the second one that I ever gave a serious listen to. (The first was—behold—Madonna!) I can't be too sure what prompted me to look into Duran Duran in favor of other bands like Eurythmics and Human League, but I'll let the historians sort that one out. All I can remember is that the first moment I put on Rio, I was immediately dazzled by it. The opening song, in particular, had me all giggly like a girl who was asked out to the 7th grade dance by the cutest boy in the class. The song I'm referring to is the title track, of course, and it gets played in your local grocery store at least once a week. I like that song not only because it has some of the most wonderfully infectious pop hooks imaginable, but its ultra clean instrumentation standards are immediately appealing to me. I mean, doesn't that ultra slick bass, keyboard-created atmospheres, and electronic drums thrill you to no end? ...C'mon, I'm not the only one, am I? ............. am I?
So, I'm afraid that I can actually claim to have a deeply rooted fondness for Duran Duran's Rio that people in my generation probably don't share. Of course, I have no idea what it was like for someone who was actually a teenager in 1982. You know, this album's actual audience. God, that must've been fun. (Then again, if I was a teenager in 1982, I probably would have hated these guys. I would've been a boring Led Zeppelin fan or something.)
Where was I? Oh yes. Duran Duran. Despite my fondness for them, they were hardly the best pop-act of the era; I would certainly think Eurythmics, Talk Talk, and the Human League are higher on that particular totem pole. And, moreover, Rio wasn't even Duran Duran's best album; that honor belongs exclusively to their self-titled debut album, which was far more artsy and herky-jerky. Rio is about as mainstream of an '80s pop album as it could possibly get. Indeed, these guys were after fame and fortune, but as far as I'm concerned, anyone who creates an album that's filled to the brim with songs as catchy as these deserves all the money they get thrown at them.
While none of the other songs manage to top the album opener, “Rio,” they all make incredibly fun listens! The dance-oriented “My Own Way” is the album's second song, and it's so strong and fun that it holds its own surprisingly well next to that monster classic. “Hungry Like the Wolf” is pure gold from beginning to end, and that was a legitimate hit back in the day as far as I know! (There was a funny Old Spice commercial featuring some hammy lounge singer playing this song... I miss that commercial.) And then, of course, there's “New Religion,” which is another slick little number that has a charming tendency to linger on in my mind long after it's through playing. These are all very smart songs, and you can't go wrong with them if you like '80s radio music.
I'd say one of the album's purest delights is the ballad “Save a Prayer,” which creates a really neat, sort of Eastern atmosphere. I've got to assume they got that idea from Japan's Tin Drum, since Japan basically created Duran Duran, but Duran Duran put that idea to excellent use. I also really enjoy that vocal melody along with Simon Le Bon's very engaging performance. Geez, I'm afraid that I don't talk about Le Bon's ability as a lead singer enough in these reviews enough. Give me this guy as a lead singer any day over that Culture Club freakazoid. Not that he wasn't a perfectly decent singer.
Even the songs I don't like so much, such as “Lonely in Your Nightmare,” “Hold Back the Rain,” and “Last Chance on the Stairway,” have strong enough hooks in them that I can readily recall their melodies just by reading the song titles. Of course, I've listened to this album so many times that these are hardly my fresh impressions of them, but I'm positive I wouldn't have wanted to listen to this album so many times if it wasn't solidly catchy and fun throughout. I'm not ashamed to admit that I've been known to frequently put this on in my car stereo and play it VERY LOUD!
(Ugh, I distinctly remember listening to this when I was driving around trying to find a business that made custom Christmas cards one year. That explains why I'm probably the only person in the world who associates this album with Christmas. I do suppose that pale lipstick-man on the cover looks a bit like a Christmas elf. A gay Christmas elf.)
So, there's my overwhelmingly positive assessment of Duran Duran's Rio. I didn't give it a greatly high rating, but that's only because I like this album even though not everything on it is as perfect or as ambitious as I would have liked. Unless you're already inclined to liking very mainstream '80s music, you'll probably want to think twice before getting this. But if you like the stuff, then nothing should stop you. Not even Michael Jackson and his triangle-nostrils.
Read the track reviews:
Seven and the Ragged Tiger (1983)
Album Score: 10
The worst thing about a band like Duran Duran that decides to sell out as mega-pop-stars is that their albums tend to get weaaaaak after their initial mega-smash. Seven and the Ragged Tiger is no exception. This is an album that tries to be Rio in essence and in quality. It got the essence down pretty well—this is very much a direct Rio clone—but the quality suffers considerably.
Rio was an album that had catchy tunes from beginning to end and extremely slick instrumentation standards. There's no other way to put it: they've lost it. Not entirely, mind you; most of these melodies are hummable, particularly the choruses. But no matter how I look at this album, it seems nothing more than a watered down version of Rio. There's only one song on this album that's up their with that album's best: “New Moon on Monday.” That's a great Duran Duran song because of one reason: THE MELODY IS UNSTOPPABLE! The verses are just as infectious as the chorus, and the chorus soars so well that it takes us right into outer space face to face with that lonely satellite! The lyrics don't make much sense to me (I think it's about a pagan ritual), but they're still fun to sing along with. I don't think this song is quite as well-known as “Rio,” but it really ought to be. You should hear it!
“Union of the Snake” is also fairly well-known, and I think it got a little bit of radio play. I like the melody, but that song is a good example of how much Duran Duran's arrangement sensibilities have seemed to slip. Rio's songs seemed much smoother, cooler and atmospheric. This song's synthesizers seem much pointier, the drums are tinnier, and the bass guitar is woefully buried in the mix. What's more, Simon Le Bon's vocals are a less refined and cool. ...In other words, they seemed to spend a lot less time and creativity working on this album. That's disappointing. (And, seriously, whoever mixed this album should be smacked for burying the bass. For shame!)
You can pretty much tell right away that Duran Duran lost a lot from their debut with the opening song, “The Reflex.” Sure, it's an entirely decent song and the chorus is pretty good, but I don't care at all for that stiff and stilted riff. It isn't nearly as palatable or as sparkly as pretty much any other song from Rio. “I Take the Dice” is a cute song and I enjoy Simon LeBon's playful lead vocals through it, but it's also missing that added sparkle and infectiousness that seemed to come so natural before. Plus, it seems too cheesy for me. Duran Duran never used to be like that.
“Of Crime and Passion” is the worst it gets here, a song that has absolutely nothing worth remembering in its melody. It's fairly energetic, and I like the sound of those pop guitars, but I'm used to Duran Duran songs at least having a cool chorus! This song has nothing! I'm also disappointed with the Eastern-tinged instrumental “Tiger Tiger.” I appreciate that they put an instrumental in an album destined to sell millions, but it's terribly flat and uninteresting. It doesn't make a bad listen at all; they just neglected to find a decent melodic theme for it. Worst of all, the atmospherics aren't interesting whatsoever. C'mon! What's the point of having a synthesizer-led instrumental without Enofying the background a little bit? ...CHEAP! It's no “Tel Aviv,” that's for sure.
I suppose you could criticize me for continuously comparing this album to Rio, and I suppose you would be right in doing so. After all, I should talk about albums on their own merit instead of on something else's merit, shouldn't I? But in my defense, I'm doing what every teenager from 1983 was doing. I mean, I really don't think too many people got this album if they were unfamiliar with Rio, and that holds up just as much today as it did back then. This is the weak sequel, and it's a weakish 10. (And Rio was a strong 11.)
But this remains a pretty good album as far as '80s pop goes. It's doesn't completely rule like Rio does, or their debut, but there aren't too many pure pop albums out there as good as those. However, if you loved Rio completely, then nothing should really stop you from getting this album. You'll probably like it. You may even love it. What do I know? I don't know you! Only you know you!
Read the track reviews:
Album Score: 9
This is not that bad. After all, this is Duran Duran in the mid '80s singing Duran Duran songs! What could be better than that? On the other hand, this is one of the most pointless slabs of music that I'm sure ever existed. Sure, I have my typical complaint about live albums—they're rarely as good as the more carefully planned and arranged studio counterparts. But for whatever reason, Duran Duran went beyond that and robbed this release of what makes live albums live albums: Audience noise.
Particularly in the arena-rock era, a big reason we'd want to get a live album in the first place is to give us the chance to close our eyes and pretend that we're standing there in the audience! (Well, at least I do that........ um.........) With only the minuscule hint of audience noise in Arena, it turns out to be nothing more than a hunk of clunky and under-developed Duran Duran songs. Geez, we're a million times better off listening to the regular albums again, then!
I'm also really puzzled over their song selection. They certainly had enough great songs in their back catalog to fill up a good 10-track live album, so what is a song like that crappy “The Wild Boys” single doing in here? ...OK, I guess it was one of their latest releases and they had to perform it. But for the life of me, I'll never understand what prompted them to bring in the relatively dull “The Seventh Stranger” in favor of “New Moon on Monday.” “New Moon on Monday” is, like, my second favorite Duran Duran song, and not including it on this release is almost a greater offense to me than my Canadian roommates' constant drunken obnoxiousness at 1:30 in the morning.
I feel so strongly about the lack of “New Moon on Monday” on Arena that I'm going to spend a whole paragraph talking about it. “New Moon on Monday” is a freaking masterpiece, I tells ya, and I absolutely ached to hear them perform it on this live release. ACHED!!! Even a butchered version of it would have been better than no version at all! And, yet, they did a version of “The Chauffeur!” That's a very nice song, for sure. But it has NOTHING on “New Moon on Monday.” NOTHING!!! (Alright, enough with the melodrama.)
There wasn't even a version of “Rio” on here until they re-released it in 2004 with bonus tracks. Although listening to the dorky way Simon Le Bon sings it (awkwardly incorporating lines of speech and hiccups throughout), I get the idea of why they didn't want to put it in the album initially. Also, the bonus tracks include another Duran Duran staple, “Girls on Film,” which includes a lot of awkward audience participation in it. Audience participation in live albums is bad enough as it is, but it sounds positively weird if you can barely even hear the audience.
Le Bon certainly sounds like he's enjoying himself throughout, though, which is one of Arena's perks. His vocal performance on “Is There Something I Should Know” is absolutely fantastic, for starters. Apart from the bonus tracks, the only part where he goes a bit too far is “Careless Memories” where he sounds a bit hoarse. ...Although I guess I can't really fault him for getting hoarse in the middle of a concert. God knows, I have no idea what it's like to sing in front of a bunch of screaming, pantie-shedding teenagers. The rest of the band sounds great for the most part. Sometimes, the bass guitar seems like it ought to have been mixed higher, particularly in “Girls on Film.” I'm also disappointed that the band couldn't reproduce the utter crispness that was originally in “Planet Earth.” It's a good song to hear them do live, of course, but it's not even remotely as tight and herky-jerky as the original, which was sort of the point of it.
They did “Union of the Snake” pretty well, which was one of their monster hits. That's certainly a moment that got all the kids in the audience dancing like an '80s kid should. “New Religion” was never one of my favorite Duran Duran songs, but they sped up the pace quite a bit, which turned out to be a pretty nice touch. I also enjoyed this rendition of “Save a Prayer,” which features another fabulous Simon Le Bon vocal performance. I like that guy's vocals so much that I'm pretty sure I have a crush on him. I'm blushing. (OK, I'm not really blushing. You know, it's really hard to pan these reviews out this long if you don't have anything to say, particularly.)
All in all, this is a pretty enjoyable album if you like Duran Duran. But anyone who actually listens to this is a dope. Not as dopey as my Canadian roommate, though. That guy is a DOPE.
Read the track reviews:
Album Score: 7
Ugh, I really hate what happened to Duran Duran. I suppose you could blame some of it on circumstance. I don't know why it had to happen, but the pop music scene changed drastically in the mid-'80s. Pop bands had begun that decade bringing us some very cool and suave interpretations of disco and funk music, but that gradually evolved into over-processed electro-garbage. Duran Duran were riding on that pop bandwagon, so it's no surprise that their album from 1986 sounds exactly like that. In the process, they lost everything that I used to love about them.
They became a trio at this point; guitarist Andy Taylor had left the band to pursue a solo career, and drummer Roger Taylor seemed tired of music altogether. I have no idea what band member was responsible for the “soul” of the classic Duran Duran sound, but this “soul” is completely gone now. The remaining three members were still able to write a few decent hooks now and again, as evidenced by the title track, which has a fairly memorable chorus and a snappy groove. It's not an altogether great song, though. There's a very unsettling stifled quality about it; it has nothing of the carefree suave vibe that this band used to create so naturally. But compared to most stuff from 1986, it was quite good.
“American Science” has a really cool groove, and it could have been turned into something great if these guys had a little more of a creative streak in them. The chorus is memorable enough for me to be able to recall it upon command, and it's generally fun to listen to. But it all wears awfully thin by its final third. Listening to that dreadfully dull and clumsy instrumental interlude is perhaps the ultimate proof that there was something terribly wrong with these guys.
Those were the highlights. If this album only had songs like those in them, then I at least would have given this album a respectable “so-so” grade. But the album only goes downhill after that point. Listening to songs like “Hold Me” is like listening to a boring college graduate ramble on about his stupid thesis. It's nothing but an over-slicked piece of nothing. The melody is so toneless that I can't see how anyone can claim to have “written” it... I can't even pick out where the chorus is supposed to be! There's another song called “So Mislead” that's pretty much the same thing. I can't even tell those two songs apart even when I play them back-to-back ...Ugh. This is depressing.
“Meet El Presidente” was released as a single, but it's so bland and unmemorable that's it's no surprise that it completely flopped. They had come a long, long way from great singles like “Rio” and “New Moon on Monday” to get to something as drop-dead boring as that piece of plastic. One of the most boring songs of them all is the ballad “Winter Marches On,” which seems to have been an attempt at recreating “Save a Prayer.” But why does it sound so dreary, and where are the sparkly instruments? Man, at least these guys used to have fun-sounding synthesizers, but what the hell are these things? ...At least we still have Simon Le Bon's ultra-smooth vocals to help matters. Although I think we've all learned from American Idol that no matter how good someone's voice is, some songs are always going to suck.
Provided that you didn't turn off the album after the third track, I'll think you might find a very minor gem with “Vertigo (Do the Demolition),” which has a mildly interesting groove and melody. In the track reviews, I only gave it a B, so that gives you an idea of how crappy this freaking album is... Man... Duran Duran used to be great......
My words were perhaps a tad harsh on Notorious considering that I've heard much worse pop albums in my day. MUCH, MUCH WORSE. I can at least say that the experience of listening to Notorious didn't offend me in any significant way like some '80s pop albums have done. At the same time, I'm very upset with Duran Duran for turning from an insanely enjoyable singles band to this ultra-bland incarnation of empty shells. It was time for them to get back to the drawring board!
Read the track reviews:
Big Thing (1988)
Album Score: 6
Argh! What horrid mediocrity! This is even worse than their previous album! ... Not by much, mind you, but it's enough that I'm starting to feel a little bit of acid building up in my stomach. (Some might say that I take my pop albums a little too seriously!) Big Thing marks yet another major step away from Duran Duran's classic sound, and the farther they get from their classic sound, the worse they seem to get. There are so many missteps on this album that I hardly know where to begin...
Let's skewer the title track first. It is a frustratingly sluggish wannabe arena-rock anthem. It's sort of like “We Will Rock You” with its big drum sound and its overly simple melody designed for cretins, but it's a complete bore. Songs like that work sometimes, but Duran Duran didn't seem to be up to the challenge of writing a melody that's infectious whatsoever, and it's so slow-moving and neutered that they come off as utterly ridiculous. It's so lame that if it was to be any lamer, it would be a limp blob of flesh. (OK, I think I mutilated it enough! Let's move on!)
They also made a bad decision to try to clone Madonna with “I Don't Want Your Love.” Like most of Madonna's music, it is a bland and over-produced piece of electro-garbage. Oh man... do you remember in the early '80s when many pop bands had cool, jerky rhythm sections and hopelessly infectious melodies? I do!! So, why did Madonna have to come along and suck all the fun out of the '80s? ...That said, that song has a halfway decent chorus thus making it one of the best moments of Big Thing. But believe me, if a song like that is a highlight of any album, it is not a good sign for it.
I'd have to say that the best song of the album is the mid-tempo ballad “Too Late Marlene.” It's very pleasant and smooth-flowing, and it caters well to Le Bon's strengths as one of the premiere lead singers of the '80s. They've surely written stronger melodies than that, but I find the chorus engaging enough to award it a hearty B+. Listening to it makes me relatively happy.
Unfortunately, those happy feelings are erased pretty quickly when “Drug (It's Just a State of Mind)” pops up. That is pretty much the most hopelessly bland and annoying club-dance song ever imaginable. (OK, I know for a fact that there are worse ones than that, but I'd rather not be reminded of that right now, thank you very much!) Listening to that song is just about as invigorating as listening to a vacuum cleaner. In a big way, I'd be better off listening to a vacuum cleaner, because at least I'd be getting some housework done! (Me doing housework, though? Fat chance!)
Argh... What else should I talk about? Pretty much everything on the last half of the album sounds vaguely like Duran Duran's classic sound except the melodies are 100 percent forgettable. So, in that respect, they're nothing like their classic sound. If you remember how most of the songs went in Rio, the verse sections were normally unremarkable, but then their choruses would suddenly EXPLODE!! The last half of Big Thing is full of these sorts of songs, except without the explosions. Therefore, they are nothing.
“Lake Shore Driving” is an instrumental and the closing track. Remember that their debut album also ended with an instrumental, the masterful “Tel Aviv?” “Lake Shore Driving” isn't even close. Duran Duran had sunk pretty dang low to get to a state where they were releasing songs like this. Its huge drum sound is 100 percent obnoxious and pungently dated, and they don't offer any sort of interesting melody or theme in it whatsoever. Blah.
In conclusion, this is a crappy album. Duran Duran should have known better. The good news was that the '80s were heading toward its close, Duran Duran would eventually realize that they were never again going to be mega pop-sensations. Therefore, they felt more free to spend most of their remaining career concentrating on songwriting. And they were pretty dang good songwriters. Until then, I'm outta here!!!! Thanks for all the non-memories! (Heh... Somehow I managed to make it through this entire review without making a penis joke...)
Read the track reviews:
Album Score: 9
This is really the ultimate proof that everybody in the world except for me is full of crap. People actually come up to me in the street and whisper in my ear that Liberty by Duran Duran is a terrible album full of terrible songs, and it has no sense of purpose. I say, screw that. I've actually listened to this album—I've listened to it many times—and there is only one thing that can be said about it: This is easily their best album since Seven and the Ragged Tiger. Not that Seven was such a great album, but it was enjoyable at least. And that's what Liberty is. ENJOYABLE! It's a hell of a lot better than Notorious and Big Thing, at least.
Perhaps one of the principle reasons that critics hated this album was because Duran Duran tried to update their sound to the '90s. I guess it was alright for them to be very current in the '80s and make millions of dollars because that was the era they emerged out of, but I guess critics can't handle a band so transparently trying to stay hip, can they? Ah... that's all a load of crap, of course. Naturally, a lot of musicians completely fall on their faces when they try to stay current (see Rod Stewart), but there's absolutely nothing wrong with the mere idea of it. ...Just my opinion, of course!
It's hardly a perfect album, though. In fact, even the main highlights I'm about to point out aren't even perfect. (The highest grade any of 'em got in the track reviews was an A-). The album opens with the upbeat pop number “Violence of Summer (Love's Taking Over).” That song is pure Duran Duran; what more of a compliment can I give it? It's upbeat, it's sparkly, it's hooky, and it's even a little bit creative. It mostly consists of a single groove being repeated over and over, but it's a snappy groove, and I love listening to it. The title track comes next, and it's similarly sparkly, catchy, and enjoyable. It starts out with some weird and muted keyboards, which are sort of cool, but eventually a very suave little groove picks up. It's just a fun song to sit back and listen to.
“Serious” was probably the band's best attempt at a hit single here. It has the album's most memorable vocal melody, and that little soft-pop riff they come up with is quite good as well. (I might warn you about watching its music video... it's so poor that it almost ruined this song for me. As a matter of fact, I would advise against watching Duran Duran videos altogether... they almost make me feel guilty for liking this band!) “My Antarctica” is a similarly laid-back and hooky tune, and Le Bon's ultra-smooth and cool vocals really manage to soar over it. Its instrumentation, again, is suave and sparkly. I particularly like those echoey and icy synthesizers they added in the background. Hardly anything revolutionary, but it shows that these guys were still willing to exercise a little bit of creativity in their work here and there.
Unfortunately, Liberty takes a real nose-dive in quality in the final four songs. Duran Duran seems to be trying to be all rough and gritty there. Maybe that wouldn't have been so terrible if they at least wouldn't have forgotten about melodies. But look all you want in “Read My Lips,” and you won't find a compelling hook anywhere. Such an utter disappointment! The closing song, “Downtown” tries similar gritty things, but all it can achieve is a loud and obnoxious mess. It's even more loud and obnoxious than my Canadian roommate! ...So, there you go. If those were the only reasons that Mr. All-Music Guide gave Liberty a one-star review, then I guess he was well justified.
But you can't forget about the good songs, can you? And there are songs that I didn't mention that also aren't bad. “Hothead” is probably these guys' best attempts at trying to be “gritty.” It's a catchy little rap song that's jam-packed with news soundbytes. ...The soundbytes thing was sort of a neat idea, I guess, but it's a gimmick that I get tired of that rather quickly. All I really care about is that it's catchy. “All Along the Water” could have been brighter and more exciting, but it's perfectly listenable. I don't really like it, but I'm not tempted to press the 'skip' button when it plays either.
I suppose I should probably close this review by saying that everybody who hates Liberty is pretty well justified in their opinions. (I just felt like opening this review with a sweeping statement that I am better than everyone else in the world. Isn't that the underlying reason why people start Blogs in the first place?) I mean, it's not like I'm giving this album a particularly high rating myself! (This is a fairly weak 9.) I just think that the vast majority of the reviews I read are way too quick to dismiss it. As a seasoned Duran Duran fan, this album has four songs that I really enjoy listening to. Most of the other songs might leave a lot to be desired, but I'm not offended by them enough to hate them. Albums with four songs that I enjoy listening to don't deserve a panning.
Read the track reviews:
Duran Duran (1993)
Album Score: 11
Score!!! After years and years of releasing substandard material, Duran Duran finally rise out of the depths of mediocrity and deliver exactly the sort of album that we always knew they were capable of: An album full of catchy pop tunes! Yay!! Duran Duran apparently even saw this as a rejuvenation, since they gave it the same name as their 1981 debut. Err... Not to get all Angry Video Game Nerd on you, but this gets terribly confusing. So, people in their infinite wisdom have collectively decided to call it The Wedding Album, because of all the wedding photographs on the cover. Clever.
Like Liberty before it, Duran Duran spent this album aiming to update their sound to the '90s in order to stay hip. While that album was a respectable albeit failed attempt, they managed to succeed here with flying colors. Not only do these songs sound good to my ears, as a 21st century pop music fan, but they even sounded good to the people of 1993! For you see, this album had quite a substantial hit on it. It is a little number called “Ordinary World.” Lemme tell you, there's nothing ordinary about it! The instrumentation and production are so smooth, clean and atmospheric and Le Bon's vocals so soaring that it grabs my earthbound senses and takes them on flight through the big blue sky! I don't say that about every song, you know! Usually masterful songs like that don't appear so high on the pop charts, so this is a very, very welcome exception!
And “Ordinary World” is not the extent of the good songs on this album. The album opener “Too Much Information” is a terribly fun song with a memorable melody and more excellent production standards. It's not a *great* song or anything, but I really love listening to it. All throughout this album, Duran Duran prove what excellent song arrangers they are. While all of these songs sound polished and fit for the radio, none of them seem cheapish or plasticy. “Love Voodoo” might be a somewhat ordinary club/techno ditty for the most part, but their electronic drums are crunchy and appealing to my ears, the bass-line is catchy, the calculator synthesizers give it texture, and that out-of-tune synthesizer gives it personality. Again, it's not the greatest song to have walked the earth, but it's a surprisingly good listen for techno.
While the first half of the album is extremely enjoyable to me, the excellence seems to peter out slightly by the second half. The melodies there are a little bit weaker, the instrumentation isn't so interesting, and the production isn't as spectacular. But those are mostly still good songs. Nothing below a B- in my book. That B- was for “To Whom it May Concern,” which doesn't have a melody that I deem pleasantly breezy or memorable. You might be also interested to know that they do a cover of The Velvet Underground's “Femme Fatale,” although it does have awful trouble getting off the ground.
Even though this album marked a definite improvement over Liberty, many critics still hated it. I read a particularly loathsome review of it in Entertainment Weekly. Like many mainstream reviewers, he didn't talk about the music at all; instead, he made elaborate comments about why it was stupid for an '80s pop band to have even tried releasing music in the '90s. ...That's a load of garbage for reasons I shouldn't have to explain! This reviewer even went onto say that Duran Duran had no talent. ...Whatever, man. We know that isn't true.
So, don't listen to that guy. Listen to me!! I speak the truth about Duran Duran (the Second One), and I say that it is excellent. It's far from a perfect album, but the universe isn't perfect so I'm alright with that. What matters is that the melodies are memorable and the production is fantastic. This is an excellent album to just sit back and relax with. People who have been longtime fans of Duran Duran will surely love it. People who like '90s adult contemporary music will also love it. ...I'll even venture a guess that people not in those categories would love it as well ...That is, except for people who are allergic to catchy pop music with polished production standards. To be honest, I find people like that to be a little strange. But then again, I guess I also think people with peanut allergies are strange. I mean, peanut butter is pretty much the best food.
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Thank You (1995)
Album Score: 10
It's weird that Duran Duran would follow up such a hot commercial seller as their 1993 Duran Duran with a covers album. I mean, they fought so hard over the years to get back into the public spotlight, so why did they have to completely stomp it out with something that would never sell? I'm not someone who particularly cares about how successful albums are commercially—it's little more than a curiosity for me—but I've still got to wonder what Duran Duran's motives were. Maybe they just ran out of songwriting juice. I guess that's a fair assumption since the only original song, “Drive By,” is a boring piece of puppy poo.
It has been said that this album was meant to be Duran Duran's 'thank you' to musicians who have influenced them over the years. In writing, that seems like it would be a nice gesture. Duran Duran had been very successful group but not extremely original, so why not give a little bit back (in both honor and royalties) to the people who made it possible for them? ...But looking at the scope of musicians who are on here and who are not on here, I get the feeling that they have no idea who actually influenced them! ...I mean, do they think they invented the whole new romantic scene, or something?
I mean, it seems fairly presumptuous of them to cover artists like Bob Dylan, Sly and the Family Stone, Elvis Costello, and Lou Reed while completely forgetting artists such as David Bowie, Brian Eno, Japan, Gary Numan, Peter Gabriel, and Kraftwerk among others who literally invented the sound that Duran Duran exploited for their mega-smash successes. I know that artists like Bob Dylan are considered more respectable and probably would have gone to sell more units than something with Japan and Gary Numan covers on it, but I still think this is pretty rotten of them. Boo!!
...Then again, I suppose this album might simply be a tribute to the artists that they've enjoyed listening to over the years. Maybe these are artists who, in a more general sense, inspired them to get into music in the first place. Maybe Duran Duran only turned into excellent new romantic musicians because it happened to be the popular form of music at the time. Yeah. I guess so. Besides, I think that Bob Dylan, Sly and the Family Stone, Elvis Costello and Lou Reed are pretty awesome, too. So, who am I to stop them? (I only came to this realization as I was halfway through the track reviews. Just a warning before you read those!)
They open this album with a Grandmaster Flash cover, who obviously didn't influence their original sound, but probably had a little something to do with Liberty. I have a self-made reputation of hating rap music, but I'll admit that the Grandmaster Flash original is inspired, and Duran Duran treated the source material well. It's rough, gruff, well-produced and its catchy hooks are kept fully intact. They follow that with a Sly and the Family Stone cover of “Take Me Higher and Higher,” which is another great song, but I fear that they took a lot of the grit and spark in it by numbing down the guitar and overproducing the crap out of it.
Lou Reed's “Perfect Day” is an inspired choice for them, although I take issue with the glossed over production, particularly that piano, which is too echoey for their own good. I like some of what they do “Watching the Detectives” by Elvis Costello, but it's a tad less inspired than even the original was. Their Dylan cover, “Lay Lady Lay” really soars, however, and it really suits Le Bon's pretty-boy vocals. (As you might remember, Dylan exercised his own pretty-boy vocals for the original!) It somehow doesn't seem appropriate for a band like Duran Duran to cover Public Enemy's “911 is a Joke,” but I suppose I don't give much of a rat's ass about that.
I'm a little surprised at how much I enjoy their cover of Iggy Pop's “Success.” Sure, Duran Duran take almost all the grit that was there in the original, but they make that pounding drum sound really nice, and they at least seemed to have fun doing it. Also, they did an excellent job with a Led Zeppelin (!) number, “Thank You.” You can breathe a sigh of relief, if you didn't know already, because that was one of that band's ballads! Anyway, Le Bon's pretty-boy vocals are a joy to hear, and their New Age backdrop actually served the material well.
I wrote a review of this album four or five years ago, and I panned the living daylights out of it. As I prepared to rewrite the review, I expected to do the same. ...And yet, I didn't! In fact, I rather liked it this time around! I don't usually disagree with my former self this drastically, and I can't remember exactly what prompted me to write such a negative review. Anyway, here is Duran Duran's covers album. Like David Bowie's Pin Ups before it, it's pretty useless, but it's nevertheless fun.
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Album Score: 10
Duran Duran had everything together when they recorded Medazzaland; they hadn't lost an ounce of their ability since their 1993 eponymous smash-hit. Their instrumentation standards sound suited for the '90s, but there's a charming, creative element that keeps most of these songs interesting. Perhaps most importantly, they hadn't forgotten how to write compelling melodies for the most part. But there is one big problem with this: It's so freaking serious. This could have risen up from the ashes and been something that I would love listening to over and over again, but it's so dark and depressing that it just gets me down. Why did this have to happen? I mean... Aren't Duran Duran supposed to be fun loving guys with cute haircuts? (And what's with that guy who looks like The Joker on the cover? Why so serious, indeed.)
Alright, Duran Duran had been more or less a deathly serious band ever since Warren Cuccurullo joined the band in 1986, and I suppose he was greatly responsible for modernizing the band's sound that eventually led to their 1993 eponymous smash. ...But Cuccurullo is bald vegan health-nut and an all-around asshole, which explains why this band isn't so fun-loving and haircut-oriented. ...Ah well. In all fairness, I guess he wasn't a bad guy. The seriousness of Duran Duran's '90s albums didn't seem to epically bug me as much until now, which explains why it took me so long to even mention him in one of my reviews.
That said, I really like how this album starts out. The opening track is a bit weird and confused. There's no central melody to speak of; really, all it consists of is a techno drum beat and a bunch of weird sound-effects and synthesizer textures. It's very psychedelic in nature, and it's surprisingly rather fun to listen to. Things get much more explosive by the second track, “Big Bang Generation,” which has such a memorable chorus that I'm readily able to recall it on demand! That song's instrumentation is also fun and playful, with all sorts of cool synthesizers keeping things sounding fun and bubbly. The third track, “Electric Barbarella” has such a catchy melody that it manages to weave itself into my brain, and I like it there. Yes sir, there aren't many songs out there that can do that so readily.
The fourth track, “Out of My Mind” is the highlight of the album, for my money. Like “Tel Aviv” before it, it's an attempt to modernize Middle Eastern music, and it succeeds wildly! This one's an actual song, though, and it has a great melody to boot. The exotic atmosphere immediately draws me in, and I'm its captive until the very end. If you only listen to one song from Medazzaland (which might not be a bad idea), then make it this one.
And then everything from track five to track 12 sucks. OK, not really—nothing on this album *sucks*—but the fifth track is where the album takes a nosedive into the boring heavy-handedness that I was complaining about earlier in this review. “Who Do You Think You Are” is one of Duran Duran's most hopelessly boring and uneventful ballads ever. “Silva Halo” is an ultra-dark but underdeveloped song that sounds like it belongs in a bad '90s techno-thriller. “Be My Icon” is pretty good as a whole, but it's way too dark and depressing than any Duran Duran song deserves to be. “Buried in the Sand” is also pretty good, and it has some cool psychedelic attributes, but again it's way too dark for my taste. Ehhhh... I don't care if it was the '90s. Enough of this techno-seriousness! Aren't these guys supposed to be bright and bubbly?
That said, there's some nice stuff on the second half. “Michael You've Got a Lot to Answer For” is an R.E.M.-like jangly ballad, and it constitutes a minor gem. Perhaps it doesn't have a great melody, but I like its soaring wistfulness. I also approve of the album closer, “Undergoing Treatment,” even though I can't exactly say that it's a pleasure to listen to! That sounds, quite literally, like it was written in the point of view of someone in a hospital, slipping in and out of hazy consciousness. It's a cool and creative work for these guys, but it's not particularly compelling enough for me to recommend you going out of your way to hear it.
All in all, I like Medazzaland in all its decadence. This is easily one of Duran Duran's all-around most creative efforts, and it does go to prove my proclamation from their 1981 eponymous album that they were real artists all along. But the overall seriousness of this album does manage to drag this album down, and prevents me from listening to it a whole lot. It also would have helped if it had better melodies on it. While this album has its fair share of catchy melodies, this is a far cry from matching the magic of an album like Rio.
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Pop Trash (2000)
Album Score: 11
Duran Duran were breaking some sort of law of physics by releasing such a good album in 2000. THIS IS A FREAK OF SCIENCE! Like Medazzaland before it, this is a collection of decadent pop ditties, except these songs aren't so freaking dark. Instead, they tend to be upbeat, entertaining and they put Simon Le Bon's soaring pretty-boy vocals to great use. Whoever was responsible for the instrumentation really did a nice job of it; most of these songs have at least a funny synthesizer in them or a mesmerizing programmed drum track to keep these songs sounding fresh. All in all, Pop Trash is a far better album than you'd ever expect out of them.
The melodies are probably the album's weakest link, although this is certainly better than the average pop album you'd find out there. Nonetheless, it's weird how I can enjoy many of these songs even if the melodies don't intimately grab me (sort of a contrast to Rio, which I pretty much only liked for the melodies). The central melody of “Hallucinating Elvis” is dull, uninspired, and it seems to go on forever. And yet as soon I start listening to it, I'm hooked. Maybe it's the programmed drums that puts me in a trance? Maybe it's that awesome buzzy synthesizer playing a deep loop? Maybe it's all those bleeps and blips infesting my speakers? ...... I don't know. All I know is that I love it in all its decadent, upper-class glory.
“Playing With Uranium” is much the same except it has a melody that I actually find pretty hooky. I know that they could have easily turned it into an obnoxious pop song meant for the Britney Spears crowd, but their instrumentation standards are 100 percent classy. It just has a very cool atmosphere, and it flows smoothly and pleasantly. The bendy out-of-tune guitar that occasionally pops up was a weird idea that, I think, put this over the edge. Quite good! Similarly, “Mars Meets Venus” is an excellent sort of club-dance song with a mesmerizing drum beat and a fitfully interesting melody. Hearing Le Bon spout out those funny lyrics are a major perk!
“Someone Else Not Me” is a good album opener. Hardly earth-shattering, but it has a nice little melody, and the instrumentation is calming and tasteful. They use the typical acoustic guitars and bass, but someone's playing a wispy synthesizer in the background, giving this a rather appealing sort of alien edge. And whoever was responsible for that twinkly backdrop in the chorus deserves a cookie! I also like “Lava Lamp,” a bubbly, late-B-52s dance pop song that might work OK at a dance party. Its hooks are alright, but they're not nearly as deathly as a song like “Love Shack.” (Although maybe you consider that a good thing!)
The one thing that Duran Duran don't do too well in his album are the ballads. They tend to be less creative and less enjoyable, as a whole. That shouldn't be a big surprise, though. “Pop Trash Movie” is the exception, a ballad that actually sports one of the strongest melodies than they have written for years. Just like a good Duran Duran is supposed to be, it starts out with a bit of an uninteresting verses section, but then it slowly builds up to a more soaring chorus. It's not quite as earth-shattering as “Rio,” or anything, but it's nonetheless and entirely pleasurable experience to sit through.
For my money, “The Sun Doesn't Shine Forever” is the album's most boring song. It's a ballad that begins with an uninteresting verses section, but it never can seem to break out of that funk it initially gets itself into. “Starting to Remember” is slightly better, but it suffers from a flat melody and uninteresting lead vocals from Le Bon. C'mon guys! You've got to make Le Bon's vocals soaaaaaaaaaaar!! “Lady Xanax” is yet another ballad, but at least I find Le Bon's pretty-boy vocals calming and sweet. That's all I ask for!
All in all, Pop Trash isn't a perfect album, but it's a surprisingly solid one for Duran Duran at this point of their careers. It might be a bit skimpy in the melody department, but somehow I'm able to get caught up with its decadent dance grooves. This is a dreamy, cool, and classy album. Most of these songs only put me into a sort of mind-numbing trance and don't challenge me a whole lot, but I actually like sitting through it quite a lot. Who woulda thought!
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Album Score: 11
Warren Cuccurullo was expelled from Duran Duran (before he was expelled from the human race for believing in 9/11 conspiracy theories) in order to make way for the glorious return of their former guitarist Andy Taylor. Drummer Roger Taylor also crawled back out of whatever hole he crawled into and rejoined as well. With all five of the original band members back in the group, the gods of rock 'n' roll had agreed to fully restore their superpowers. .........And I'm not exaggerating! Credit it to supernatural beings, artistic inspiration, or whatever, but Astronaut is filled with some of the catchiest, most divine pop tunes that have ever made contact with my ear drums. .....**REALLY**!!! (Why do I get the feeling that you don't believe me?)
I'm still not sure which one of these band members constituted the heart and soul of classic Duran Duran (people tell me it was indeed Andy Taylor), but this is by far the most bright and bubbly album that these guys have released ever since Seven and the Ragged Tiger. While I loved their 1993 eponymous album, Medazzaland and Pop Trash in all their post-modern decadence, I'll always prefer the juicy pop of Astronaut. It's happy and it sparkles. Yes indeed; this is Duran Duran just like the good old days! Oh, joy!
They even managed to get a minor hit with “(Reach Up For The) Sunrise!” (Well, as much as it's possible to have a “hit” these days.) It's a delectable little thing, featuring a terrific melody, impeccable instrumentation, and charmingly feel-good lyrics. Listening to that song is just like listening to vintage Duran Duran, except, of course, it is updated for the '00s. Man! I, I know I've said that I always believed that Duran Duran had much more talent than people give them credit for, but I had no idea that they still had hopelessly infectious songs like that in them.
“Want You More!” is another great pop song with another extremely infectious melody and fun instrumentation. I know that Duran Duran used similar techniques of instrumentation that acts such as Christina Aguilera used. Except, somehow, Aguilera's songs completely grate my nerves, and Duran Duran's standards are 100 percent tasteful, classy, and entertaining. Listening to a song like “Want You More!” shows me what '00s pop should have sounded like all along! Plus, it helps that Simon Le Bon's vocals are as delightfully smooth and cool as ever. He didn't need no voice altering machine! Eat your heart out, Madonna.
And, really, this album never lets up. The other songs might not be quite as good as the two I already mentioned, but they are all quite melodic, they are atmospheric, and they soar. Perhaps their hooks aren't as strong as they could have been, but part of me doesn't even mind that. This is just a pleasurable album to listen to. Isn't that what Duran Duran was supposed to be about all along?
Holy cheesecake, I'm not going to actually say this am I? ...Ah, I'd might as well. I don't have any credibility, anyway, for believing that there is such a thing as a good Barry Manilow record. OK, here it goes... Astronaut is just about as good as Rio. It's probably even better in some respects. Trust me; that hurt me quite a lot to say that since I too consider Rio to be a bit of a sacred cow. But what can I say? Astronaut is just a nice little album. It's pretty dang close to a 12, too, which is quite strong for a pop album.
The best thing of them all is that listening to the songs of Astronaut back-to-back always seems to put a giant smile across my generally fat and frowny face, and I start to feel all optimistic and stuff. I know. Weird, right? Longtime fans of Duran Duran who were wondering where their sparkly old band went off to after 1984 should definitely give Astronaut a listen. This is one of the greatest reunion albums ever. And I mean that. Hey! Stop looking at me like that! I speak the truth!! (...Oh, I see. You can't get past the Barry Manilow thing I said in the previous paragraph... C'mon. If you force yourself to listen to “Copacabana” a few times, you'll start to realize that you like it. You might not feel too terribly good about yourself afterwards. But I've done it, and I turned out OK. For the most part. ......Sort of.)
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Red Carpet Massacre (2007)
Album Score: 7
What? ...Duran Duran? ...Did they try to update their sound or something? ...Call me crazy, but I thought their sound was updated already for Astronaut. I suppose it had a bit of a retro sound, but at the same time, nobody in their right minds would think it came from the 1980s. As I said in that review, Astronaut sounded perfectly aesthetic and classy. Red Carpet Massacre, on the other hand, is a nightmare. The pivotal mistake they made was to turn to Justin Timberlake. Yes sir, Justin Timberlake. He's the guy from the Superbowl. (Seriously, though, that song he was singing with Janet Jackson was so awful that I could hardly blame him for trying to make the experience a little more interesting.) He co-writes and co-produces four of these songs. Say it ain't so!
Let's talk about why it was a bad idea for Duran Duran to make an album that sounds like Britney Spears. UM. WHY SHOULD I EVEN HAVE TO SAY ANYTHING???! IT'S JUST A BAD IDEA!!!! Because they apparently didn't realize this, I guess I should go right out and say it: Teenagers who like Britney Spears are idiots who only buy her albums because she looks all stylin' on TV. Let me tell you, this same audience would never buy an album from a bunch of old dudes. It doesn't matter what their music sounds like; these guys are older than some of their parents. Case closed.
The only thing that Duran Duran had accomplished by releasing Red Carpet Massacre was completely alienating people like me who actually liked Duran Duran. We not only adored their knack for hopelessly catchy melodies, but we also appreciated how creative their instrumentation standards generally were. Even at the height of their decadent period with 2000's Pop Trash, we still appreciated how classy their music was. Red Carpet Massacre is the sort of album that is sure to appeal to no one.
Ugh, take a listen to the album opener, “The Valley” and try to convince me that those tinny drums aren't obnoxious as hell, and that dry, buzzy synthesizer isn't freaking brain-numbing. These are the same sorts of instrumental practices that a lot of pop acts these days use, and for the life of me, I'll never understand why people think they're cool. Perhaps they're rebelling against the '80s when the pop music tended to use an insane amount of reverb. BUT HOLY HELL, AT LEAST GIVE IT A ***LITTLE BIT*** OF REVERB! LISTENING TO THAT DINKY LITTLE DRUMBEAT ALL THE TIME DRIVES ME INSANE! ...Granted “The Valley,” is one of the more passable songs on this album, since it thankfully gets more colorful as it moves along. Its main problem, as it turns out, is its total lack of decent melody.
...Really, that's the root problem of Red Carpet Massacre. If the melodies were better, on a whole, then I'd imagine it would have distracted me slightly from the offensive instrumentation! I will say, however, that there is one song, “Box Full O' Honey” that can legitimately be called good, and all it needed was an acoustic guitar, piano, an organic drumbeat, and some extremely subtle synthesizers noodles in the background. That's more like the Duran Duran that I know. It still comes off flat, overall, and I suspect the only reason I like it is because of how pretty it sounds next to all that Britney Spears dreck. But whatever. I'm grateful for it.
If you want a good excuse to gouge out your eardrums, then take a listen to “Tempted.” That song is so bad that, I swear to God, it makes the songs that “Timbaland” produced seem like works of art. It has the world's most obnoxious synthesizer loop that keeps on REPEATING AND REPEATING AND REPEATING until it has dug little burrows in my brain. That is by far the worst song that these guys have ever done. No wonder Andy Taylor left the band again! He missed out on thousands of dollars in tour money, no doubt, but at least he kept his dignity.
To conclude, this album is a pop nightmare. The songs are toneless, the instrumentation is obnoxious, and there is nothing pleasurable about it. I think it should kill itself. I even hate that cover. Though to its credit, it gives an accurate indication of how trashy this album is. You'll like this album just as much as you like that cover! To prove that there is, indeed, justice in the world, this album bombed commercially. Astronaut sold 2.5 times more units than this. So that says it; people didn't want Duran Duran to be like Justin Timberlake. They wanted them to be awesome like Duran Duran. That's all I'm saying. Now, crawl back to Andy Taylor, say you're sorry, and start making music again! (Yay! According to their Wikipedia page, they've preemptively taken my advice! A new, “back to their roots” album is due out in 2010. I'm so happy!)
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