Episode 2 – Duran Duran’s Eponymous Album Review
Welcome back to New Wave Beat! I am your host, Jason D’Orazio. I want to go over Duran Duran’s self-titled debut album. But 1st some of the latest new wave news…
0:01: New Wave news
5:36: Review of Duran Duran’s eponymous album
New Wave Beat News
Annie Lennox One-Off Show
Annie Lennox, who was one half of the synth duo Eurythmics, is going to perform a one-off show at Sadler’s Wells in the UK next March. This is to raise money for the Circle, which helps empower girls and women across the globe. Not only will there be music, but Lennox will also talk about her life and career. Alas, in talking with the British news outlet Independent, Lennox mentioned she doesn’t feel like writing songs anymore. But there are still some good Eurythmics and Lennox songs that we can all enjoy. The article also mentions Lennox’s humble beginnings, and talks about her rise to stardom.
Boy George Concert in Israel
Boy George and Culture Club recently put on a powerful show in Israel, the 1st time for them there in 30 years. According to the Times of Israel, the crowd was diverse in age and many knew a lot of Culture Club’s songs. As expected “Karma Chameleon” brought the crowd to its feet. The band also performed a new song called “Resting Bitch Face”, which has not been released yet, as far as I know. This concert is just the start of Boy George and Culture Club’s expansive world tour.
Elvis Costello Update
Elvis Costello has a new song out called “You Shouldn’t Look at Me That Way”. It is part of the soundtrack for the movie “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool”. Check it out on Pitchfork’s website or other Internet outlets. Costello’s last album was back in 2013, so hopefully this is a harbinger of more new music from him. Costello is doing a 6-show run the Wynn in Las Vegas. These mini-residencies are becoming more common, as Billy Idol recently did one of his own. Also try to check out Costello’s memoir, which came out 2 years ago.
INXS Video Reinterpretations
Telecom provider OPTUS and music agency BRING are teaming up to provide video reinterpretations of INXS classics from their “Kick” album. This is to support the 30th anniversary of said album. Indie pop duo Client Liaison will be covering “Need You Tonight”. Australian professional skateboarder, Poppy Starr Olsen is maneuvering through “Mystify” on a board featured on the album cover. Talented dancer Maddie Peat gives a moving interpretation of “Never Tear Us Apart” and mixologist virtuoso Mikey Enright makes the INXS guitarist a nice cocktail while discussing “Kick”.These videos look pretty good, and are available for viewing online, with the exception of “Need You Tonight”, which should be released on the upcoming week.
Howard Jones Live
Howard Jones will soon do a mini-tour of the UK before returning to the United States next January for a couple of months. He will performing at intimate venues such as the City Wineries in New York City, Chicago, and Nashville. I saw Howard Jones live a couple of times and he sounds crisp and great! Jones is expected not only to play his hits, but also to discuss the background and inspiration behind them. Jones recently released a greatest hits album with some bonus live performances, in case you want to get a taste of what to expect from his concerts.
A-Ha’s “Stay on These Roads”
The website Nooga wrote a glowing review of A-Ha’s third album called “Stay on These Roads”, released in 1988. While it performed modestly in the United States, 4 million copies were sold worldwide. The article describes the album is being more moody and introspective rather than peppy and upbeat. Also, it mentioned how they were unfairly lumped in with faceless pop bands in the ‘80s. On a side note, I do think that lead singer Morten Harket looks at least a little like one of the brothers on the ‘90s show Wings, but I will let you be the judge of that.
Cyndi Lauper Happenings
Cyndi Lauper in my opinion is an underrated talent, winning Grammy, Emmy, and Tony awards throughout her career. Her new song, “Hope”, is dedicated to psoriasis awareness. Lauper herself has psoriasis, so it is a movement near and dear to her. She spoke with Yahoo Music about how “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” is both a party song and a feminist statement. Diverse women were invited to be in the video, so it is also about inclusion. The article and accompanying video also bring up her less-than-stellar opinion of famed songwriter Bob Dylan. Give it a view!
Blondie recently had a show in Nottingham in the UK. Frontwoman Debby Harry wore a activist jacket that said “Stop Fucking the Planet”. Actions like this are proof positive that Harry has not lost her punk/new wave edge. The concert itself was described as having great renditions of their classics such as “The Tide is High” and the appropriately-named rap song “Rapture”. The band also tested out material from the recently released album dubbed “Pollinator”. The album title itself is in combination with Blondie’s move to save the world’s bee population.
Review of Duran Duran’s Eponymous Album
Now that we are done with the news, let’s start the Duran Duran eponymous album review by me giving a little background on Duran Duran.
Origin & Influences
After its members being in a couple of short-lived bands, Duran Duran formed in 1978, comprised of vocalist Steve Duffy, bassist John Taylor, and keyboardist Nick Rhodes. Duran Duran named themselves after the villain in the 1968 cult sci-fi film Barbarella. Duran Duran owe a large part of their visuals and fashion to David Bowie, who wore eye-catching outfits to say the least. Sonically, Roxy Music was a large influence, as they had a prominent keyboard section. Also, the disco and R&B stylings of Chic would be heard in various degrees in Duran Duran’s albums. Indeed it is no coincidence that Nile Rodgers of Chic and Duran Duran would work together on and off throughout their careers. Of course, I also need to mention synth and dance pioneers Kraftwerk, whose moody instrumentals are sometimes echoed in some of Nick Rhodes’ synths on Duran Duran songs. As far as similar bands are concerned, A-Ha comes to mind, although they started when Duran Duran were already megastars. Spandau Ballet are also in Duran Duran’s New Romantic style, though I find Duran Duran to be a little more energetic. Later in their career Duran Duran would also incorporate some elements of brit-pop, adult contemporary, and even a bit of hip-hop.
When I was a young child in the ‘80s I heard some Duran Duran on the radio and found it pretty catchy, along with other new wave tunes. However, It was not until I started college in 1997 that I had a New Wave renaissance, finding the music better than most of what the ‘90s had to offer. Around that time I really got into Duran Duran, buying their entire catalog in my freshman and sophomore years of college. First up was their greatest hits album, called “Decade”, and finishing with lesser-known albums like “Liberty”. I have seen them regularly on tour from 1999 to the present day. I will be talking about their releases in the coming weeks. You will get a taste of the atmosphere musically and specific to Duran Duran around the time of each album, along with a review of the tracks and some personal notes relevant to these songs. Enjoy!
After some lead guitarist and vocalist changes, Duran Duran released their eponymous debut album in 1981. This classic incarnation of Duran Duran includes lead singer Simon LeBon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, lead guitarist Andy Taylor, bass guitarist John Taylor (no relation), and drummer Roger Taylor (also no relation!). 1981 was a time where punk had already given way to more melodic new wave and post-punk. Synthesizers were playing more of a role in music, having a usually cold, eerie quality adapted from Kraftwerk. Gary Numan and early Human League were examples of this cold style, starting out at the turn of the 80s. Fashion in the music industry became more eclectic, taking cues from pirates, the military, and much more. In their debut, Duran Duran warmed these synthesizers, grafting them onto dance beats. The result was an innovative and infectious set of 9 songs, along with 4 associated videos and 4 B-sides.
The lead single, “Planet Earth”, is a great start for the band, as it incorporates disco and dance grooves and foreshadows an optimism and energy found in their other early works. In fact, in “Planet Earth” the band even references the New Romantic movement that they were helping spearhead: for instance: “Like some new romantic looking for the TV sound”. There are many interpretations of what “Planet Earth” is about, whether it be apocalypse, space travel, or the aforementioned New Romantic movement itself. The accompanying video has the band playing and dancing atop a tall crystal-like platform. Interestingly enough Simon jumps off the platform at the end of the video, seemingly into a bottomless abyss. This began a long series of music videos for the band. While low-budget compared to their later videos, it showed that Duran Duran can captivate with imagery as well as with their music. When touring in support of the 2015 album Paper Gods, Duran Duran segued this song into a cover of Bowie’s Space Oddity to poignant effect.
“Careless Memories” was the 2nd single off the eponymous album. It rocks the hardest of the 9 songs, as it allows Andy Taylor to flex his guitar muscles. That is not to discount the catchy beginning synth. The angry repeating of the song title shows Duran Duran’s indirect punk roots. The lyrics, appropriate to the angry, frenetic melody, represent the anger and nihilistic phase of being abandoned. For example, the line “on the table, signs of love lies scattered.” The video has a similar narrative, interspersed with the band playing. Flowers that wilt throughout the course of the video represent a love gone wrong. LeBon appears to be having a lot of fun with this video, as he pantomimes shooting a gun and blowing its smoke 3 times. This video was edited upon its re-release in 1983, with some of the supposed cornier bits removed. But I say watch the original!
Girls on Film
The Godley and Crème-produced video Girls on Film was originally banned from TV because of nudity and sexual suggestion, though an edited version was released. The song and video are about a model (or perhaps pornography) shoot; it’s a little fuzzy which, what with lyrics like “Lipstick cherry all over the lens as she’s falling.” The video has sumo wrestlers, mud wrestling, and ice on nipples. The song itself reminds me of Roxy Music’s Love is the Drug, what with their disco leanings and rhythm sections. Flash bulb sounds start off the song, so someone playing Beat Shazam could mistake J Geils Band’s “Freeze Frame” for it (and then suffer the wrath of Jamie Foxx). The drumming and guitar are both intense in the right spots, so I really enjoy this song. The fervor over the video, along with it just being a great song, helped the single climb to #5 in the UK charts.
I would like to speak about the album tracks as well. While “Careless Memories” is about anger regarding a lost love, “Anyone Out There” is sort of a prelude that captures the surprise, head-scratching and sadness phase of someone who just got ghosted. This is the only song that did not really resonate with me, as I felt the melody meandered and did not advance as well as the other cuts in this album. “Duran Duran” the album was re-released in 1983 in the US, with “Is There Something I Should Know?” replacing “To The Shore”, so I had not heard the latter track as much as the others. “To The Shore” features a high-pitched, cold synth, and the lyrics are a bit dark, creating for an awesome, moody song. The exact topic of the song eludes me, so please chime in if you have an interpretation of it. The second side to the album is slower and darker but grew on me with repeated listens. “Night Boat” in particular is arty and eerie in a good way, what with Nick’s ominous synths and LeBon’s haunting vocals. A music video was made for “Night Boat” when Duran Duran shot to fame during the Rio era. While not as slick as the other Rio-era videos, it is an entertaining watch. There’s a bit of dialogue during the long intro, along with zombies and a seemingly-possessed Simon LeBon. “Sound of Thunder” has a disco-tinged intro that hooks you in instantly, and there’s a great guitar hook before the choruses. The vigorous drumming of Roger Taylor is the highlight of the bridge. So overall, a solid team effort. Lyrically, LeBon sings about being out of control. “Friends of Mine” continues the mood of “Night Boat”, adding a bit of a menacing tone. For instance, commanding the listener to “close the door” and being “sick of your alibis”. As I see it, the focus of the song is either about having toxic friends or criminal Georgie Davis being released from prison due to a lot of public pressure from his friends and admirers. The album closes with the mostly-instrumental “Tel Aviv”, which appropriately incorporates a bit of a Middle Eastern motif punctuated by LeBon’s wails. In their early touring they would open this number to set the mood for the concert. I would say “Planet Earth” is the highlight of the album, with “Anyone Out There” my least favorite.
The singles from the “Duran Duran” album era also had some solid b-sides that could have held their own with the existing album tracks.”Late Bar” is a short but very danceable track gleefully describing an all-night rager in a hotel room (room 7609 to be exact). The song’s intensity is dramatically interrupted by the bridge and a false ending about half a minute before the actual end. “Khanada”’s chorus has LeBon singing in a lower register while doing his own backup vocal, wailing in a higher register. The anxious synths and tight guitar in the outro complement each other nicely. Duran Duran covered their influencer David Bowie’s “Fame”, giving the song a New Romantic makeover. “Faster Than Light” is not lyric-heavy but has good energy and has LeBon hitting higher notes than usual.
How Did the Album Do?
Duran Duran was starting to get big in the UK, with all 3 singles hitting the top 40 there, though not quite stars yet in the United States, with no charting singles. In the UK they were playing larger and larger venues. Upon the 1st album’s release, They had never toured in North America before. They did have several tour dates in the US in support of their eponymous album, including East Side Club in Philadelphia which is the basement of a flop house. By the way, Depeche Mode and several other new wave acts played at East Side Club around the same time. How I would have loved to be there at the turn of the ‘80s to see Duran Duran and other bands before they struck it big, though I was a mere infant at the time. They also played at the Roxy which has a capacity of 500. Not quite the 20,000 of Madison Square Garden, but you gotta start somewhere. In addition to the United States and UK, Duran Duran also visited a few countries in continental Europe. John Taylor has a blow-by-blow account of their rise to fame in the early ‘80s in his book “In the Pleasure Groove” if you are interested. A nearly-complete concert list spanning Duran Duran’s career is available on their official website which is pretty neat!
The self-titled album and accompanying videos are thus a great glimpse into Duran Duran before the full blown Duranmania, if you will. Check out all of these songs, including B-sides, on the provided Spotify playlist. For the videos, Youtube will be your friend.
Next week I intend to turn back the clock to 1979 and discuss song hit songs to come out around then. Thanks for listening today to New Wave Beat, and until next time!