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Duran Duran

+ {The Power Station} + {Arcadia}

Cooler, trendier and funkier than your average new romantic stars SPANDAU BALLET, ULTRAVOX and ABC, Birmingham’s synth-poppers DURAN DURAN were like the post-new wave second-coming for glam; teenage girls (and boys!) swooning and drooling over their every pelvic movement. Going global when MTV and video “killed the radio star” in the early 80s, model singer Simon Le Bon and Co struck gold with the likes of `Girls On Film’, `Hungry Like The Wolf’, `Rio’, `Is There Something I Should Know?’, `The Reflex’, `The Wild Boys’ and the James Bond movie-endorsed `A View To A Kill’. Three decades on, DD were still roping in audiences all around the world.
Armed with an array of glamorous pop stars to clone, such as BOWIE, ROXY MUSIC and COCKNEY REBEL, the first incarnation of DURAN DURAN – the name acquired from a character in the 60s kitsch sci-fi movie, Barbarella – was a different one to the group that eventually made it big. A revolving-door of personnel changes since forming in 1978, only Nick Rhodes (keyboards) and John Taylor (then guitar) would weather the storm as both original members Simon Colley (bass/clarinet) and STEPHEN DUFFY (vocals) departed; the latter incidentally became a solo star in his own right having been superseded by ex-TV Eye singer Andy Wickett.
1979 saw the drum machine ousted for proper sticksman Roger Taylor, and John switch to bass when short-stop guitarist John Curtis made way for Andy Taylor. Several auditions led to Birmingham University student Simon Le Bon (from punk act Dog Days) finally being installed as singer/lyricist the following spring. After a British tour supporting HAZEL O’CONNOR, the 5-piece band were snapped up by E.M.I., initiating their manicured career in early ‘81 with the sci-fi single, `Planet Earth’.
The toast of the London cognoscenti, extravagantly coiffured (and even more outlandishly attired) poseurs ensured DURAN DURAN a near Top 10 smash as the scene that perpetrated one of the worst fashion crimes in history (i.e. legwarmers) was stepped up a gear. It was just that `Careless Memories’ was a near follow-on flop, reaching only No.37. That summer, their eponymous debut album, DURAN DURAN {*7}, and a suitably po-faced third single, `Girls On Film’ (complete with BBC banned promo by GODLEY & CRÈME), confirmed the band’s synth-powered, post-glam pretensions with lashings of attitude and mascara. Riding in on the floppy fringe of the new romantic zeitgeist, the album cracked the Top 3 and, with help of heavy MTV rotation for the `Hungry Like The Wolf’ video, eventually the US Top 10.
The latter track was a transatlantic Top 5 and previewed their glorious sophomore set, RIO (1982) {*8}. By this point the band’s fanbase had grown from an arty clique to hordes of screaming girlies, ensuring massive success for the sub-panoramic warbling of `Save A Prayer’, the streamlined aquatic rush of the title track and the whining `Is There Something I Should Know?’; youth centre dance-floor fillers the lot. Although the latter track wasn’t part of the album, the record did give the band their first British No.1; with continuing support from MTV in the States, DURAN DURAN were also churning out ever more flamboyant videos to keep the Yankee dollar happy.
A vague concept affair, SEVEN AND THE RAGGED TIGER (1983) {*6} came in for a bit of a critical pasting from some quarters, although the hits continued apace with the dodgy and almost chip-paper-forgettable `Union Of The Snake’ and `New Moon On Monday’. One could almost forgive Le Bon, Rhodes and the unrelated Taylors their little indiscretions when `The Reflex’ (a quintessentially 80s effort complete with stuttering vocals, and famous for its 5-minute video featuring water-coming-out-of-the-screen trickery), became a transatlantic chart-topper.
The zenith of DURAN DURAN’s bombastic heyday came with `The Wild Boys’, a classic slice of white nouveau-funk with added rhythmic oomph courtesy of ex-CHIC man/producer in demand, NILE RODGERS; the accompanying video setting the boys in a storm-drenched, sub-Mad Max-style netherworld. The single rocketed to No.2 in Britain and America, preceding the universally panned concert effort, ARENA (1984) {*4}. A James Bond theme tune, `A View To A Kill’ (another Stateside No.1), nicely rounded off the first chapter in the band’s career as the various members took time out to indulge themselves in splinter projects.
Marginally more entertaining than Simon, Nick and Roger’s ARCADIA, The POWER STATION (i.e. Andy and John, plus star outsiders ROBERT PALMER and ex-CHIC sticksman, Tony Thompson) were first out of the traps. Eponymous album, THE POWER STATION (1985) {*6}, possessed a panache all of its own; PALMER adding classy touches by way of funky big hitters, `Some Like It Hot’ and a cover of T. REX’s `Get It On (Bang A Gong)’; forget the other rendition of The ISLEY BROTHERS’ `Harvest For The World’. When PALMER sought to rectify a flagging solo career, Michael Des Barres (ex-DETECTIVE) stepped in at short notice, although their spark and enthusiasm had by now dissipated.
The less said about ARCADIA (LeBon, Rhodes and Roger Taylor) the better, their only saving grace on the Top 30 set, SO RED THE ROSE (1985) {*4}, stemming from `Election Day’ and, maybe, `Goodbye Is Forever’ and `The Promise’. The year was made more significant by the glam wedding of Le Bon and top model Yasmin Parvanah (on the 27th of December), while a year previously, the other two, Roger and Nick, had also married Cosmopolitan models.
DURAN DURAN eventually returned in late ’86, minus Andy and Roger; the former setting out on a solo career, while the latter quit the music business for several years.
NOTORIOUS (1986) {*6}, showcasing the NILE RODGERS-masterminded Top 10 title track, narrowly missed the top of the American charts. Gone were the hedonistic pop thrills of old, however, and in came the cliched rock-pop by way of further Top 30 hits, `Skin Trade’ and `Meet El Presidente’.
The synthetic new wave/new romantic was on a sticky wicket, with acts such as A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS, HOWARD JONES, et al, finding it tough to maintain street cred among the likes of The SMITHS, The CURE, NEW ORDER and DEPECHE MODE; Messrs Le Bon, Rhodes and John Taylor (plus star-turn fill-in members: guitarist Warren Cuccurullo and drummer Steve Ferrone) churning out bargain-bin sets, BIG THING (1988) {*3} and LIBERTY (1990) {*2}, both indescribably bland. Nevertheless, stalwart devotees ensured continuing chart action, the latter album still reaching UK Top 10 status.
1993 saw DURAN DURAN make something of a mini-comeback with `Ordinary World’, their best single for years and a transatlantic Top 10 to boot. Also prised from the parent set, DURAN DURAN (THE WEDDING ALBUM) {*7}, second single `Come Undone’ also made the grade, while the album itself gave a hint as to what was in store with an unlikely update of The VELVET UNDERGROUND’s `Femme Fatale’.
Even more unlikely was a cover of hip hop/electro landmark, `White Lines (Don’t Do It)’, just one of the many erm… “interpretations” on the THANK YOU (1995) {*4} album. Incredibly, GRANDMASTER FLASH actually had a hand in this sacrilege, although what PUBLIC ENEMY’s Chuck D thought of the ridiculous rendition of `911 Is A Joke’ was anyone’s guess. A well meant attempt at reinventing their heroes perhaps (a decade ago it was STEVE HARLEY & COCKNEY REBEL’s `Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)’), but please, a cover of DYLAN’s `Lay Lady Lay’?! Still, the list was inspiring in itself:- `I Wanna Take You Higher’ (SLY & THE FAMILY STONE), `Perfect Day’ (LOU REED), `Watching The Detectives’ (ELVIS COSTELLO & THE ATTRACTIONS), `Success’ (IGGY POP), `Crystal Ship’ (The DOORS), `Ball Of Confusion’ (The TEMPTATIONS) and `Thank You’ (LED ZEPPELIN).
And was there any need for another POWER STATION set? LIVING IN FEAR (1996) {*5} was the horizontal PALMER, Andy, John and Tony churning out harder-edged funk on `She Can Rock It’, next to covers of MARVIN GAYE’s `Let’s Get It On’ and GEORGE HARRISON’s `Taxman’.
While DURAN DURAN had plundered the past to regain some cred, a new – but old-sounding – American-only set, MEDAZZALAND (1997) {*3}, was followed wisely by a second “Greatest Hits” package, and worse still, a remix album in ‘99, entitled STRANGE BEHAVIOUR {*2}; strange behaviour, indeed!
The millennial POP TRASH (2000) {*3} proved that they couldn’t even name an album title without resorting to cliché, while the record’s contents were hardly adventurous. By this point, Le Bon and Rhodes were the only survivors from the defining line-up; Cuccurullo (once again) completing the trio for a singularly uninspired set of overproduced, dinosaur pop.
Four years on, featuring all of the classic line-up back on board, and with the 80s revival in full swing, DURAN DURAN took the opportunity to revisit their glory days with a Top 5 single, `(Reach Up For The) Sunrise’. Their biggest hit for decades, the song opened their similarly successful comeback album, ASTRONAUT (2004) {*4}, from which near Top 10 hit `What Happens Tomorrow’ was also spawned.
Minus Andy once again, the remaining four Durans were happy to stick themselves in among followers The KILLERS etc., courtesy of a Timbaland-produced set, RED CARPET MASSACRE (2007) {*6}. A fashionista-conscious title and, as always neon-coated and dance-floor-friendly, the moody and broody were evident on the likes of `Skin Divers’, `Falling Down’, `Nite-Runners’ and the paparazzi-baiting `Zoom In’.
Switching from Epic Records to TapeModern, the arty element was slicker than their greased-back hairdos on umpteenth Top 30 set, ALL YOU NEED IS NOW (2011) {*6}. Augmented by in-vogue producer, Mark Ronson, the tenties were rewound back to the eighties for these 50-something blue-eyed boys from Brummieland. Brazen and bold, exotic crooner Le Bon sounded happy – by his standards – to recreate a déjà vu by way of springboard “killers”, `Blame The Machine’, `Girl Panic!’ and the dramatic (`Return To Now’ segue to) `Before The Rain’.
Their career would all seem relevant and in touch when concert CD/DVD package, A DIAMOND IN THE MIND: LIVE 2011 (2012) {*6} was delivered by twilight label Eagle Records. One could then compare the merits of their new contemporary tunes to immediate giants such as `Planet Earth’, `The Reflex’, `Notorious’, `Hungry Like The Wolf’, et al.
Working hard to recreate a sound befitting the early-mid 80s rather than injecting some fresh ideas into their yuppie cocktail of slick, fook-yer-austerity songcraft, Le Bon and the er… boys unveiled PAPER GODS (2015) {*6}. Hyped to the max and augmented by a handful of knob-twiddlers (Mr Hudson, Mark Ronson, Nile Rodgers and Josh Blair), the Top 5 set was choked by collaborators, not least by actress Lindsay Lohan on the clap-handed `Danceophobia’; ditto for the Kiesza-backed `Last Night In The City’ and the Janelle Monae/NILE RODGERS-addled download single `Pressure Off’. Daft punks or krafty werkers (e.g. `Butterfly Girl’), DURAN DURAN only really sparkled on the swooning `What Are The Chances?’ (featuring guitarist JOHN FRUSCIANTE) and the eerie closer, `The Universe Alone’.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/BG/MCS / rev-up MCS Jan2014-Sep2015

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