Duran Duran: All You Need Is Now


RIYL: Duran Duran’s first two albums, Mark Ronson

It’s funny how people can surprise you even when you think you know them better than they know themselves. After spending a good decade releasing albums that ranged from underrated (Medazzaland) to underwritten (Pop Trash), Duran Duran reunited the Fab Five lineup early in the 2000s and dropped Astronaut in 2004. It was the closest the band had come to their trademark sound in 20 years, and they were rewarded with some of the best reviews of their career. But old feelings die hard, and guitarist Andy Taylor bailed on the band again the middle of making the follow-up to Astronaut. That album, titled Reportage, was supposed to be a back-to-basics affair, an angrier, more aggressive album. Rather than finish the album, though, the band dissolved their partnership (we’re guessing that’s a money move, so Andy would no longer be involved in any revenue sharing) and started over from scratch…

…with Timbaland and his hack protege, Danja Hills. Ye gods.

DD_London_3705_Reduced

The ensuing album, 2007’s Red Carpet Massacre, was a gigantic step backward, filled with wonky synthesizers and the worst drum sounds a rock band ever put to tape (and that includes Missing Persons’ Rhyme & Reason). The whole modern-day hip-hop production didn’t suit them at all, and the worst part is that there were ways that Duran Duran could have modernized their sound without looking silly; Timbaland was not one of them.

And clearly the band realized this, because midway through the tour for Red Carpet Massacre, they teamed up with UK It Boy Mark Ronson and asked him to remodel their hits. The collaboration proved to be fruitful, as Simon Le Bon would go on to sing on Ronson’s (great) 2010 album Record Collection (the title track, no less), and keyboardist Nick Rhodes contributed a song. Ronson returned the favor by producing the band’s new album, All You Need Is Now, and with that, they found their new Colin Thurston and released their best album since Rio.

Let’s qualify that best-album-since-Rio line, though. It’s their most consistent album since Rio, no question, with nary a duff track in the bunch. But it’s surprisingly lacking in the ‘killer hit single’ department. The title track is a gem, and “Runaway Runaway” captures the essence of the band’s glory days better than anything here, but as good as these songs are, it’s an album full of songs on par with “Anyone Out There” and “My Own Way.” There isn’t an “Ordinary World,” “Planet Earth” or even a “New Moon on Monday” to be found.

There is, however, a new “The Chauffeur” buried in the album’s final third. “The Man Who Stole a Leopard” is a masterpiece, but its run time (over six minutes) and tone will make it a hard sell for release as a single. Beginning with a flanged keyboard, string accents (courtesy of Arcade Fire’s Owen Pallet) and minimalist percussion, the song slowly builds into a melancholy dance track not unlike Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Sympathy,” with haunting call-and-respond vocals from Kelis. Easily the best song the band’s done since “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone.”

It looks as though something good came out of Red Carpet Massacre after all. The band realized that chasing the pop charts is a fool’s errand, and that the best thing they can do at this point in time is simply be themselves. All You Need Is Now could be better, sure, but Duran Duran hasn’t shown this kind of focus in nearly 30 years, and that alone is reason to be cheerful. Well done. (Skin Divers 2011)

Duran Duran MySpace page

  

2011 Song of the Year Candidate #1: Duran Duran, “The Man Who Stole a Leopard”

Welcome to a new column here at ESDMusic, which I created for the sole purpose of talking about new songs that make me giddy. First up: my boys from Birmingham, Duran Duran.

Last time we heard from Duran, they were, well, royally pissing me off. They had just shelved an album that was reportedly a harder-edged back-to-basics affair, modeled after the Kaiser Chiefs and Bloc Party, two bands that Duran bassist John Taylor loved. Why would they do such a thing, you ask? Because Andy Taylor had left the band, again, because the band expressed interest in adding one more song to the album…featuring Timbaland and Justin Timberlake. Now, I can see where a guy like Justin might appeal to them, but Timbaland? Really? Do they know what he does to the people he produces? He makes sure they all sound like him. You will use this drum machine; you will use this keyboard sound. And you will let him say “wicky wicky” at some point. Is there any place for that on a Duran album? Answer: no, and Andy knew it, so he bailed.

DD_London_3705_Reduced

So the band started over from scratch, using the Timbaland collaboration not as a one-off but as a starting point (!). The end result: Red Carpet Massacre, where Duran Duran traded in their identity for one last attempt to remain relevant to the pop charts. The single stiffed, the label dropped them, and Duran went about making things right by doing what I’ve been wanting them to do since 2007: work with Mark Ronson. The band’s new album, All You Need Is Now, released on their own Skin Divers label – a curious name, considering it’s the name of the failed Timbaland collaboration – is the most traditional-sounding Duran Duran album since Seven and the Ragged Tiger (and is actually better than Tiger). And tucked away in the album’s back half is one of the best songs they’ve ever done.

“The Man Who Stole a Leopard”… Jesus, what do you say about this? It builds slowly, a la “The Chauffeur,” and features this gorgeous call-and-response vocal from Kelis that borders on haunting. The lyrics, based on an idea of John and Nick’s (and inspired by the 1965 Terence Stamp movie “The Collector”), tell the tale of a man who, you guessed it, kept a leopard in his apartment, and how his obsession with said creature fulfilled him like nothing else, but also led to his undoing. Ronson tones down the drum tracks some, making for one of those melancholy dance tracks along the lines of “Enjoy the Silence” or “Unfinished Sympathy.” With a run time of over six minutes, “The Man Who Stole a Leopard” is not likely to be among the songs chosen for release as a single, but you can bet that it will – and if the YouTube comments are any indication, already has – become a fan favorite. Give the video one listen, and see if you’re not running to the iTunes store seconds later.

  

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2010: Senior Editor David Medsker’s picks

Having children has had a profound impact on my musical tastes. Will it make them cry? Will it teach them naughty words? Will it bore them? Then it doesn’t get played around the house, which has resulted in my sharp turn towards the poppier side of modern. And really, once you’ve seen your three-year-old completely lose his shit when hearing a song with a chorus of “Na, na na na, na na na, na na na na na na na,” it’s hard to push anything on him that doesn’t come armed to the teeth with the pop hooks. Mind you, I think the Ramones are a pop band too, so I’m painting with a pretty broad brush here. But make no mistake – these bands are pop bands, of varying stripes and shapes. If you fancy yourself a hipster, you’d be best to move on and check out one of the other writers’ lists. I gave up being hip a couple years ago, and let me tell you: it’s extremely liberating.

Note: Some of the notes at the end of the write-ups will offer suggestions of which songs to check out. Others actually offer the songs. If you see “Click here for a free download…”, those songs are on our server, meaning you won’t be dragged off to some site that asks you to give up your email address for a song. These puppies all come with no strings attached, so please download away.

Top 10 Albums of 2010

1. Mark Ronson: Record Collection
Ahhhhhh. If I get to heaven, this is what the radio station will sound like. Tasteful drum beats paired with even tastier synth tracks, highlighted by brilliantly chosen guest contributors from Q-Tip and D’Angelo to Simon Le Bon and a devastating performance by Boy George. Definitely gonna ride this bike until we get home.
Download these: “The Bike Song,” “Somebody to Love Me,” “Record Collection”

2. Hey Champ: Star
I’m a sucker for any band that justifies my love for New Order and the Buggles, and this Chicago trio threw down synth pop/rock that, in an ideal world, would have Passion Pit opening for them, not the other way around.
Click here for a free download of Hey Champ’s “Neverest”
Click here for a free download of Hey Champ’s “Cold Dust Girl”

3. Prefab Sprout: Let’s Change the World with Music
Man, what a sweet surprise this was. Originally scheduled to be the follow-up album to 1990’s Jordan: The Comeback, the album was scrapped despite Prefab leader Paddy McAloon already finishing studio-quality demo versions of every song. Eighteen years later, the songs finally see the light of day, and the result is instant nostalgia. He supposedly has dozens more albums on his shelves from the same period. Please don’t make us wait 18 years for the next one, Paddy.
Download these: “Let There Be Music,” “Ride,” “God Watch Over You”

4. The Hours: It’s Not How You Start, It’s How You Finish
This one is knocked down a few rungs on a technicality, in that it’s a Franken-album consisting of the best songs from the band’s two UK-only releases. But hot damn, are those songs good. Shimmering, sky-high, piano-driven pop that addresses the darkness in people’s lives but strives for hope and change. No wonder Nike used one of these songs for their unforgettable “Human Chain” ad earlier this year. Favorite lyric: “I can understand how someone can go over to the dark side, ’cause the Devil, he’s got all the tunes.”
Download these: “See the Light,” “Big Black Hole,” “Come On”

The Hours – “See The Light” 2010 Edit from Adeline Records on Vimeo.

5. The Silver Seas: Chateau Revenge
I’m still pissed about this one. I got a sneak peek of the record months before its release because our publicist is tight with the band. We played the daylights out of it, and couldn’t wait to sing its praises when it came out in April…only April never happened. Then it was July, and when it came out, the damn thing was buried. Why, why, why? Not enough irony or cynicism? I see no reason why the Shins can sell millions while the Silver Seas still toil in obscurity. The phrase ‘criminally underrated’ was written about bands like this.
Click here for a free download of the Silver Seas’ “The Best Things in Life”


Read the rest after the jump...

Mark Ronson: Record Collection


RIYL: Taking ’60s pop and hip hop and throwing them into a blender

As the DKNY poster boy and the It producer for nearly everything out of the UK since 2006 (Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse, Adele, Kaiser Chiefs, and Duran Duran’s upcoming album), Mark Ronson has reached Timbaland levels of productivity of late without suffering from Timbaland levels of overexposure. Granted, much of that is due to his work’s general lack of commercial crossover in the States – of all the pop artists he’s worked with, only his work with Winehouse has cracked the US Top 40 – but chart success or not, it stands to reason that someone with seven producer credits since the beginning of 2009 alone would need a break. Instead, Ronson has decided to release another solo album.

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Record Collection, Ronson’s third solo album and first since 2007’s all-covers project Version, sounds exactly like his other work; tasteful drum programs (the most organic drum machines you’ll ever hear), ’60s-style pop songwriting, a dash of early ’80s synth pop, some two-step, and lots and lots of guest performers, prodiminantly from the world of hip hop. Most of the time, Ronson matches song to singer (and/or rapper) quite well, particularly the hoppin’ leadoff track (and first single) “Bang Bang Bang” and “Somebody to Love Me,” which sports a haunting vocal from Boy George. Ronson splits vocal duties with Simon Le Bon on the dark wave title track, an amusing stab at the here-today-gone-today nature of the music business and the best song Le Bon’s sung in half a decade (“I made a mint in 1987, now I’m living in my parking space”).

There are times, though, when Record Collection could have benefited from a little less busyness. Did the Nuggets-riffing “The Bike Song” really need a rap break from Spank Rock? It’s great that Ronson loves ’60s pop and hip hop, but the two really have no business hooking up, and “The Bike Song” and “Lost It (In the End”) would have been better off if they hadn’t employed the kitchen sink approach. As it is, Record Collection, is one of the more diverse and hook-laden pop records you’ll hear this year. One wonders, though, if it could have reached instant classic status had Ronson reined things in a bit. (RCA 2010)

Mark Ronson MySpace
Click to buy Record Collection from Amazon

  

The Like: Release Me


RIYL: Matthew Sweet, The Bangles, 60’s Mod rock

The Like return for their sophomore effort, Release Me, a 13-song set clocking in at just under 40 minutes. This collection of ’60s inspired pop rock gems will rock your socks off and keep you dancing for the duration of the record. Release Me has enough cool to satisfy retro-alternative hipsters and turn the heads of aging mods looking for some kickin’ new tunes to play at their next Vespa rally.

Founding members Z Berg (vocals/guitars) and Tennessee Thomas (drums) parted ways with Charlotte Froom (bass/vocals) and entered the recording studio with famed producer Mark Ronson, the man responsible for Amy Winehouse’s spectacular soul album, Back to Black. The English producer certainly has a knack for recreating the sounds of a different era, but Release Me would be pure novelty if it weren’t full of strong, catchy power pop that sticks to you like the sweetest tasting bubble gum. Mind you, this gum has a little bite.

While the music is sunny and very danceable, once you get past that bright veneer, you’ll find that Release Me is an album full of women scorned, breakups and broken hearts.   Even if you’re not in the mood for some Alanis angst, you can look past the lyrics and just rock out. “He’s Not A Boy” (the first single) and “I Can See It” are so damn good, they deserve radio play all summer long, and then some; while “Catch Me If You Can,” “In the End” and “Release Me” will make sure no fan is sitting down during the band’s upcoming concerts.

By the end of the album, the organ begins to wear thin, but as soon as you start thinking you may want to break that keyboard player’s fingers, the album is over. It won’t be long until you’ve scrolled back to the beginning and started the whole thing over again.

If you’ve ever wondered what the Kinks, Zombies or Who would have sounded like had they been an all-girl group who played their own instruments and sang in perfect harmony, the Like may be your answer. Here’s hoping that they continue to grow as artists like their obvious influences. (Polydor/Downtown Records, 2010)

The Like MySpace page
Click here to purchase Release Me from Amazon

  

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