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Episode 4 – Duran Duran’s Rio Album Review

This is Jason D’Orazio welcoming you from New Wave Beat. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving, for those in the US. Later I will discuss Duran Duran’s iconic 2nd album “Rio”. But first, some new wave news:

0:00 – New Wave News

5:00 – Review of Duran Duran’s Rio

New Wave News

Squeeze Concert Review

Bestclassicbands.com wrote a review for Squeeze’s recent show at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. The reviewer mentioned that out of the 7 or so Squeeze concerts he had been to, this was the best hands-down. I have seen some good Squeeze shows myself, so that sounds like high praise. They played some numbers from their recent album “The Knowledge”, along with standbys such as “Tempted” and “Up the Junction”. “Another Nail in My Heart” was the standout track according to the review. Squeeze finishes up the US leg of their tour December 2 and go to Australia in early 2018.

Thor Ragnarok Soundtrack

The Conway Daily Sun spoke to Mark Mothersbaugh from Devo about the score he created for Thor: Ragnarok. Mothersbaugh mentioned that, while he did not intentionally incorporate elements of Devo into the music, it may have happened anyway due to his desire to supplement his orchestra with retro synth sounds. He mentioned that the marvel scores were getting a little formulaic as of late, and that he wanted to push the envelope with his music. For one of the parts of Thor:Ragnarok, Mothersbaugh was going for “a caveman wearing a space helmet kind of sound”. I did get to see the movie and loved both it and Mothersbaugh’s score.

About the Eurythmics

The BBC recently had an insightful article about the Eurythmics and their nomination into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They mentioned they would love to play their biggest hit “Sweet Dreams” at the induction ceremony, provided they get in. The article also talks about their rise to fame, and the time Annie Lennox was once held hostage. Yikes! Members Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart would often use interesting sound effects for their songs, like milk bottles colliding for the aforementioned “Sweet Dreams”. One nit though: they mentioned the Eurythmics would be the first new wave act to get in, though new wave acts Talking Heads and the Police are already in.

Squeeze Concert Review

The Newark Festival in the UK will have some new wave acts. This includes Kim Wilde, Go West, Nick Heyward from Haircut 100, and Limahl of Kajagoogoo fame. Wilde has a lot of other UK dates in early 2018, while Go West will be touring with Nik Kershaw around the same time. Nick Heyward has some tour dates to support a new album called “Woodland Echoes” that he recently released. Limahl is just doing the Newark Festival and 1 more date next year.

New Simple Minds Album

Don’t you forget about Simple Minds: they recently announced a new album, named “Walk Between Worlds”, that will be dropping on February 2 2018. It will be their 1st album in about 4 years. According to the Simple Minds website, the album will have 2 halves: 1 half featuring new wave and post-punk grooves, and the other half having orchestral arrangements. Sounds like it would be an interesting listen! “Walk Between Worlds” is available for pre-order now.  In addition they will have 7 special concert dates in the UK where they will perform the new album in its entirety and have on-stage interviews.

Human League and the Lebanon

Short but interesting article from Noise11 that brings up Philip Oakey from the Human League regretting making a political statement with their 1984 single “The Lebanon”. In it, he sings about a Lebanese civil war fuelled by the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon in 1982. Oakey now feels political songs should be the province of solo artists and not bands. In looking at the Human League’s discography, they have made few, if any, other directly political songs before or after “The Lebanon”. It’s also interesting to note that the song was also a black sheep of their music in that it had a prominent guitar section. That’s not to say I don’t like “The Lebanon”.

Who Sampled Who

There’s a cool website called Who Sampled Who that catalogues examples of when a band or artist covers or samples from another band or artist. For example, a search for Howard Jones shows that the site catalogued 9 samples and 21 covers. It is interesting to see how new wave songs are now being used in current songs. In the 2010s Duncan Sheik covered the classic Howard Jones track “What is Love?”, giving it a more acoustic treatment. On the flip side, Howard Jones covered the Beatles’ classic “And I Love Her” in 2015, which has him singing over a spanish guitar. Some discoveries made by using Who Sampled Who.

Review of Duran Duran’s Rio

Now that we went over Duran Duran’s debut album last time, let’s move to their follow-up, Rio. This album is considered by many music experts to be Duran Duran’s best album, and I certainly agree. Let’s start with the iconic album cover, which was designed by pop artist Patrick Nagel. It inspired me to get another one of his works that my wife and I found at a flea market, which we then hung up in our hallway. Had I found a copy of the Rio album cover I probably would not have chosen it, as Frasier Crane might say it would be a little too much on the nose. As it stands my phone wallpaper is the Rio album cover. It was the 1st Duran Duran album I listened to besides the greatest hits compilation called “Decade”. A whopping 6 memorable videos and 4 singles came out of the album “Rio” I will discuss these videos and singles first, then talk a little about the remaining tracks.

My Own Way

“My Own Way” was the 1st single teasing the release of Rio. This original version of the song features disco strings and a fast tempo. This video shows flamenco dancers, along with a black, red and white color palette. The dancers are interspersed with the band playing live, while a parrot messes with the band members. Towards the end of the song the band triumphantly dances with the flamencos with confetti being blown about. The song was remixed for the release of the “Rio” album, with echoing synths replacing the disco strings. Also, the tempo was taken down a notch, making the album version a minute slower. While the original version is great, the album version makes it sonically fit better with the Rio album. The lyrics reference a couple of nightclubs in New York City. I heard something that the song was about John Taylor’s drug habit, but other than that I don’t really know much about the words.

Hungry Like the Wolf

After beginning with a woman giggling, “Hungry Like the Wolf” has a perfect interplay between high-pitched synth and power-chorded guitars. The lyrics talk of desire of and pursuit of a lust interest. LeBon also adds to the instrumentation with doo-wop sounds. In particular the “do-do-do-do-do-dos” that help make the song memorable. The quieter, slower bridge allows the song to breathe a bit and whet the anticipation for the last chorus. While Duran Duran previously made solid videos, “Hungry Like the Wolf” catapulted their videography to classic status. While “My Own Way” did not get much airtime, MTV placed “Hungry Like the Wolf” in heavy rotation. Nick, Andy, John, and Roger are galavanting around in Sri Lanka. Meanwhile Simon is frantically seeking out a lady across the island, who he eventually finds and has a roll in the hay with near the end. As an aside, this is one of my go-to songs at karaoke. In my opinion “Hungry Like the Wolf” is the best song of Duran Duran’s best album.

Save a Prayer

“Save a Prayer” was the next single, which is more of slow burning ballad, but is definitely a real goody. It has a synth hook near the beginning that is pretty catchy, and Andy’s guitar add flavor during the choruses. As usual, great drum and bass guitar as well. The lyrics speak of a chance encounter and subsequent one-night stand between the narrator and another. LeBon sings that they can call the one-night-stand “paradise”, and that the perceived judgment by them can be reserved for later. The video, like “Hungry Like the Wolf”, was filmed in Sri Lanka, and showcases its beautiful scenery. Kids are dancing in circles, Simon walks along the beach with the rest of the band playing their instruments by the surf. Incidentally very little is shown of LeBon’s love (or lust) interest. As it stands, “Save a Prayer” is a relaxing and picturesque video.

Rio

The song Rio has long been Duran Duran’s set closer on their tours. It begins with the 20-second crescendo, then hooks you with a really good bass line, and a quick synth melody. Andy’s guitar also plays a strong role in the song though, particularly in the choruses. There was a show about the meaning of song lyrics on VH1, and it revealed that Rio is actually about the United States, with Rio being the Rio Grande at its southern boundary. It could also be seen as double entendre, with the narrator fawning over the girl with the “cherry ice cream smile”. The music video for Rio was one of the most iconic ever, with the band gallivanting on boats, the beach, and such. The vivid imagery and sharp editing make it a standout.  Also, Rio is another go-to song for me at karaoke, by the way. Rio has an almost 1-minute saxophone solo, which gives me a chance to flex my air sax muscles when performing this song. I would venture that “Rio”, along with “Hungry Like the Wolf”, are the 2 most well-known songs from Duran Duran in 2017.

Lonely in Your Nightmare

The mellower song “Lonely in Your Nightmare” is about a woman who is experiencing a traumatic situation or set of situations. Indeed, as LeBon puts it, “her lights of hope are fading quickly”. LeBon himself offers to be the beacon of light at the end of her tunnel. A 5-note synth melody is played throughout the verses, while the outro has some nifty guitar work by Andy. While not a single, “Lonely in Your Nightmare” had a video shot for it. It follows the narrative of the lyrics: a woman is tossing and turning in bed, having some bad dreams, and in other shots LeBon is with her as, from his point of view, a pillar of comfort.

The Chauffeur

“The Chauffeur” is a brooding track that is one of the strongest Duran Duran songs around. The synth in the beginning that plays through most of the song is equal parts catchy and haunting, while a drum machine is judiciously used to add flavor. Simon LeBon’s vocals are spot-on, matching the tone of the instrumentation. The ocarina outro, also by LeBon, is poignant. The video is in black and white which adds to the hauntedness, but there is more to it than just that. A brunette is being chauffeured to meet a blonde woman in a parking lot. Once they are together the 2 women act sexually suggestive to each other, while a third watches while topless. This is interesting in that such content was not shown a lot in the mainstream media of the early ‘80s, including in music videos. The lyrics mostly match the video in its narrative. It is told from the point of view of the chauffeur, who lusts for a woman, and making reference to another woman’s interest in her.

Other Tracks

There are a few more tracks I would like to discuss. “Hold Back the Rain” is a fun, galloping track. The lead guitar accents the synth nicely during the verses, while the drums do more of the accenting in the choruses. While not a single, NASA uses it as sort of an anti-rain dance, so it is getting a modicum of air time somewhere these days. The brooding and verbose “New Religion” is a fan favorite, and reminds me a little of “Night Boat” off their 1st album with their creepy synths in the intros. I think this one is about cult-mentality and false gods. The bridge is known for having a half-spoken half-sung bridge by LeBon. The mid-tempo “Last Chance on the Stairway” features LeBon giving adulation to a romantic interest. I am guessing the “last chance on the stairway” part refers to the 2 of them meeting by chance, and LeBon doesn’t know if he will see her again unless she accepts a date request. Both the bass and lead guitar give the song some punch in the choruses and bridge.

B-Side

The Rio singles only spurred 1 b-side, dubbed “Like an Angel”. It is a straightforward but enjoyable song about 2 lovers. LeBon focuses on his lover’s eyes, similar in topic to Roxy Music’s song “Angel Eyes”. The most prominent instrumentation is a tropical sounding guitar. It did not make the cut as far as the album is concerned, but it’s still pretty solid.

In Conclusion

Rio was the album that started to catapult Duran Duran to stardom. It was a instant hit in Europe, but took a few months to get heavy sales in the United States. However, their music videos helped them eventually break out in the US, and the rest is history. Duran Duran were still not playing the largest venues in the United States, such as the 900-seat Park West in Chicago. However, the band was playing larger venues in other countries. For instance, the Hammersmith Odeon in the UK. The schedule of making new song and video material, along with worldwide touring, was hectic to say the least. You could say the band was being run, well, ragged. But that’s a story for another day.

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