Episode 6 – Review of Duran Duran’s “Seven and the Ragged Tiger”
Welcome to another episode of New Wave Beat. I am your host, Jason D’Orazio. I will discuss Duran Duran’s 3rd studio album, “Seven & the Ragged Tiger”, but first let’s delve into a little bit of news in the new wave world.
0:00 – New Wave news
4:26 – Songs From 1980
New Wave News
Yahoo Music recently spoke with A-Ha’s lead singer Morten Harket. Harket discussed that while the band was quite proud of their smash hit “Take On Me”, it kind of put their extensive back catalogue in the shadow of that song. They recently performed a live acoustic version of “Take On Me” that sounds quite different and dreamy. It scored a lot of views and listens, and was critically praised. I enjoyed it, but I prefer the original, what with its great vocal range by Harket. I also like the jitterbug-esque keyboards. Yes, I rarely meet a synth that I don’t like.
Blondie’s “Doom or Destiny” Video
Blondie just released a new video called “Doom or Destiny”. The song itself comes of their latest album “Pollinator”. While the song is arguably about falling for what is perhaps the wrong guy, the video is a satire that features Deborah Harry and Joan Jett as newscasters reporting on the current turmoil in the United States. There is even a news ticker on the bottom of the screen. The gas masks represent the environmental situation that we are in, and there is Donald Trump as a puppet. It is interesting that the song’s title is displayed in the format of the Twilight Zone, Full House, and Saved by the Bell title cards. Clever video, and great song to boot!
True Colors Fund
People magazine had a poignant article about Cyndi Lauper. In it she discussed how, before “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” fame, she was a runaway at 19 and struggling to survive. She was a starving artist, bouncing around hostels, couches, and even homeless shelters. In part because of that experience, she had started the True Colors Fund, which aims to end homelessness among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. The focus with this organization is on training and education. The other day she hosted a benefit concert in support of the True Colors Fund. Kudos to Cyndi Lauper for her philanthropy!
Depeche Mode Success
On New Wave Beat’s Facebook page I brought up the success of Depeche Mode’s touring. Indeed, they have outsold even pop stars Ed Sheeran,Justin Bieber and Bruno Mars in 2017. For example, they sold out 4 consecutive shows at the Hollywood Bowl. The band’s popularity has held up quite well thanks to their consistency in touring and putting out albums, and thus they have over 7 million likes on Facebook. I have seen them live and the band puts on a great, energetic show. Depeche Mode is nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall and Fame and we will find out if they get in on Wednesday December 13.
Gary Numan’s “The End of Things” Video
Gary Numan is keeping busy these days, what with releasing a new video for the song “The End of Things”. It is hauntingly good, featuring Numan in gray post-apocalyptic attire and a flashing red motif. “The End of Things” I think has a middle-eastern flair to it. The song comes off his latest album, “Savage: Songs From a Broken World”, which recently came out. He has also announced a string of concert dates in the UK next March, to supplement his current run of shows in the United States. As discussed in my last podcast, Numan’s sound is more industrial in recent years (sort of like Nine Inch Nails), but it is great music.
No “Do They Know It’s Christmas” Reboot?
Midge Ure, who co-wrote “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, told Digitalspy he is not sure if he wants to reboot the song in the future. Many new wave and other artists teamed up to sing the song under the moniker “Band Aid” in 1984, in order to ease famine in Africa. The song was remade several times but the most recent version in 2014 failed to gain traction among audiences. An idea was floated around to have the original artists sing it again, but with George Michael gone it may have been squashed. I will touch more on “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in an upcoming episode.
Review of Duran Duran’s “Seven and the Ragged Tiger”
With the resounding commercial and critical success of “Rio”, Duran Duran fans were clamoring for more music. The band struggled with the recording of a follow-up album, but did manage to release it, dubbed “7 and the Ragged Tiger” in late 1983. In his autobiography, John Taylor was not particularly pleased with the album, but I am. While it does not reach the mastery and diversity in sound than “Rio”, “7 and the Ragged Tiger” offers great songs and hooks galore. It is sometimes considered as having more of a poppy sound, but the lyrics throughout the album represent inner struggle and turmoil, and is not as heavy on the love and lust theme.
Is There Something I Should Know?
While it got tacked onto the re-release of Duran Duran’s debut album, I am going to talk about the song “Is There Something I Should Know?” now because it came out in between “Rio” and “7 and the Ragged Tiger”. The song begins with an impassioned chant of “Please Please Tell Me Now”, of which there is a reprise in the choruses. The melody is kind of in-between “Save a Prayer” and “Hungry Like the Wolf” in terms of intensity. The bass guitar is really good on this one, and Simon LeBon’s voice is full of vigor. On the surface the song seems to be about the narrator wondering what he needs to do to win over a love, though references to “snow” and “blow” suggest a possible cocaine reference. The accompanying video mostly consists of Duran Duran performing and and dancing to the song. The band is decked out in matching blue dress shirts and black pants, and the backdrop is full of simple geometric patterns, creating a distinct theme. There are brief clips of previous videos in it as well. “Is There Something I Should Know” was a top 10 hit in the US and hit the top of the charts in the UK. Duran Duran used the song as a set opener in their “Seven and the Ragged Tiger” tour.
Union of the Snake
“Union of the Snake” starts with with a high-pitched synth, and then it joined by a subtle but great guitar section. A saxophone enters the fray starting at the 2nd verse and comes to the forefront in the bridge. LeBon is a little more restrained than in “Is There Something I should Know”, but his vocals are still melodic and hook-heavy. The synth is a little more eccentric sounding than some of the band’s other hits, which is not a bad thing at all. The lyrics might be about one’s inner reptilian nature coming out. References are made to one’s senses breaking, and of course the chorus “the union of the snake is on the rise”. The stylistic video, reminiscent of the movie “Road Warrior”, would be a foreshadowing of the “Wild Boys” video that came out a little later. The “Union of the Snake” video features a lizard-like humanoid creeping around a desert landscape, tracking the band that is decked out in Indiana Jones-like gear. Later, Simon LeBon discovers an underground cathedral. Finally he passes out but is saved. “Union of the Snake” was a #3 hit in both the United States and United Kingdom, continuing the torrid streak that Duran Duran was having.
New Moon on Monday
The song “New Moon on Monday” is the 2nd single off “Seven and the Ragged Tiger”. The drums are the highlight of the intro, and the other instruments join in. “New Moon on Monday” showcases a great range in vocals by Simon LeBon, starting in a lower register but successfully reaching for the high notes by the time the chorus rolls around. This chorus also has a 5-note synth riff near the end that I found to be one of the great hooks in the song. This is a hard song for me at karaoke because of the vocal range and my deep voice. The song could be about feeling euphoria, perhaps because of a love interest. Indeed, lyrics like “Fire dance through the night” captures this high that the narrator has. “Every minute I keep finding clues that you leave behind” showcases how the narrator is drawn to the possible love interest. The video runs almost a minute longer than the stand-alone song. It has the band sneaking around a city, fomenting a revolution which occurs at the climax. “New Moon on Monday” was also a top 10 hit in both the UK and across the pond in the US.
Duran Duran had their biggest hit of the album, along with the one that gets the most airplay nowadays, with “The Reflex”. The album version of “The Reflex” was solid, but the subsequent single version is catchier, adding the famous “na-na-na-na” hook to the song, to go along with the original’s “why-i-i-i” and other intentional stuttering. This new version was remixed by Nile Rodgers of Chic. This is notable not just because the single was their 1st US #1 single, but also foreshadowed further collaboration between Duran Duran and Rodgers. This alliance would inject a new element into the band’s music that allowed them greater musical flexibility. One of many things I like about the “Reflex” is that all the instruments and vocals play a strong role. Super-fun as it is, I am not sure what “The Reflex” is referring to. I would love to hear your interpretations of what it means. The video features the band playing live. While in general I do not prefer this video format, I will give this one a pass because they were just a tad busy in the early ‘80s, and the band likely wanted to change it up a bit after a long string of narrative videos. It captures the electric environment of their early concerts, of which I wish I could have seen.
“(I’m Looking For) Cracks in the Pavement” is a little slower and has some nice guitar work in the verses before Simon starts singing and right before the choruses. The synths are a little bit experimental in the intro which is pretty cool, but are also effective later on in the song. The lead guitar is more subtle but provides color at the right moments. Lyrics like “My head is full of chopstick” and “if I had a car I’d drive it insane” suggest the song is about an internal mental struggle. Sort of in the same vein as “Union of the Snake”.
“I Take the Dice” has a strong, high-pitched 4-note synth hook throughout, with another synth layer added on. Meanwhile, castanets and John Taylor’s guitar add to the rhythm. Simon LeBon is melodic as usual, and occasionally adds grit to change things up a bit. For example, on the words “braced lips”. The short bridge reminds me a bit of “Is There Something I Should Know?” Lyrically, I think phrases like “just this once I take the dice”, refers to the narrator wanting to establish some assertiveness in his interpersonal relationship or relationships, much like someone at a craps table or playing a board game.
“Of Crime and Passion” starts with a heartbeat sound, and then comes at you fast and charging. The Simon’s wailing at times and the Taylors’ guitars reminds me of “Careless Memories” from their 1st album. In my opinion It features the best and most prominent guitar work of the album, especially in the bridge. The song I believe is about being heartbroken, with lyrics like “falling into the gaping hole where your heart should be. Indeed, LeBon is a victim in the crossfire of love, and based on the words of “Of Crime and Passion” he ain’t too happy about it.
“Shadows on Your Side” has a killer bass line and again features Andy Taylor more.The synths appropriately engender anxiety. It is stylistically similar and is a good companion piece to “Of Crime and Passion”. I have a strong feeling that “Shadows on Your Side” is, like a lot of “Seven and the Ragged Tiger”, about personal struggle. The line “With everybody to say that your having the time of your life when your life is on the slide” might be a reference to the breakneck pace that Duran Duran were going at in the early ‘80s, and that causing both internal and external turmoil.
“Tiger Tiger” is a relaxing instrumental track that allows the listener to take a breather from an album that moves along at a brisk pace. It allows Nick Rhodes to experiment a bit more with his keyboards, especially early in the song. It leans a little bit to the avant-garde and because of that I think of it as kind of a prelude to the work that part of the band would do in the spinoff band Arcadia. More on that project next time. Like “Union of the Snake”, the saxophone shapes the song to some extent. The mental picture I have when listening to this track is relaxing on the beach, and I am curious to hear what you picture.
The last song off “Seven and the Ragged Tiger”, “The Seventh Stranger”, has a 5-note raindrop-like synth that permeates throughout. The lead guitar is catchy and poignant in the chorus. Although one of the slower songs in the album, LeBon delivers good range energy and range with this track. Regarding the lyrics, they are profound, and I think it’s about ending relationships and then seeing those lovers as if their romance never happened. Lines like “I look through the eyes of a stranger” hint at this. Indeed, “The Seventh Stranger” is an underrated gem and is a good wind-down to conclude a high intensity album.
The singles around the time of “Seven and the Ragged Tiger” had a combined 3 b-sides. “Faith in This Colour” is an instrumental that allows Roger Taylor to program a killer drum machine riff. Like fellow instrumental “Tiger Tiger”, Rhodes gets to play around with the synths. It is pretty good but I prefer “Tiger Tiger” given that the band wanted just 1 Lebon-less track on the album. “Secret Oktober” is a fan favorite. While not my favorite from the early ‘80s era, I still feel it is a solid track. It has a very good vocal range by LeBon and memorable synths by Rhodes. It might be about the lull after a whirlwind of activity. Could it be a reference to a breather the band wanted to take after the craziness of their early ‘80s schedule? A live version of “Make Me Smile” is the B-Side of “The Reflex” and is also a cover of a Steve Harley hit. It is a competent cover. Early on the song is quite sparse but launches into full-energy mode a little less than 2 minutes in. It is more guitar-heavy than most pre-Ordinary World tracks, so if you like ‘90s and early 2000s Duran Duran you might enjoy this a lot.
With “Seven and the Ragged Tiger”, Duran Duran continued their whirlwind schedule, performing at sold-out shows at large venues such as the Oakland the Carolina Coliseums. In John Taylor’s autobiography there is a picture of him exhausted with an oxygen mask on. He wrote that he was getting little sleep and had hit a hard alcohol and drug habit. You could say Duran Duran was becoming well, Notorious.
And that’s a wrap for this episode of New Wave Beat. Next week I will take the time machine to 1981 and talk about some great songs that came out that year.