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.


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


Duran Duran: The Special Editions, Part II

And here is where we most likely reach the end of the line for the re-issuing of Duran Duran’s catalog. This is not to say that there are no other albums during their time with Capitol that are worth having – 1997’s Medazzaland remains the band’s most underrated album to date, torpedoed by a terrible first single – but two of the three albums after Big Thing include 1990’s sonic meltdown Liberty and the oft-ridiculed 1995 covers album Thank You. They scored a massively successful comeback with their 1993 “Wedding Album,” but for all intents and purposes, Notorious and Big Thing were the last two albums the band made while still enjoying the penthouse view.

Duran Duran: Notorious

RIYL: Grand notorious slams. Bam.

Notorious suffered some pretty harsh criticism when it was released, and that’s understandable. Let’s face it, this is a dark-sounding album. (Heck, even the album cover is dark.) Those looking for more bouncy percussion and nonsense lyrics must have been stunned to hear so many minor-key grooves (mid-tempo ones at that) and Simon Le Bon singing about lovelessness (“A Matter of Feeling”) and the selling of sex (“Skin Trade”). After all, the last two times the band had hooked up with producer Nile Rodgers, the end results hit #1 (his remix of “The Reflex”) and #2 (“The Wild Boys”), so it’s fair to say that the band had some unfair expectations placed upon them from the get-go. All was well when it came to the title track though, thanks to Rodgers’ trademark scratch guitar and the album’s second-best chorus. (The honor for best chorus goes to “Skin Trade.”) What to make, then, of the chugging “American Science,” or dark rocker “Hold Me”? They’re interesting songs, but so far removed from the way the band had written in the past that they were easy to put down. In hindsight, though, Notorious has held up pretty damn well.

The bonus materials for Notorious are both awesome and maddening. Disc I contains a remaster of the album, fleshed out with single edits for the album’s three singles and the lone B-side “We Need You.” Disc II contains the 12″ mixes for the three singles as well as “American Science” and “Vertigo (Do the Demolition),” along with the live tracks from the Duran Goes Dutch EP. The big score here is “Notoriousaurus Rex,” an eight-minute megamix of the Notorious remixes that only appeared on the rare Master Mixes set. Even better, this version includes the spectacular edit of Notorious closing track “Proposition” that was edited out of the Master Mixes vinyl but appeared on a Capitol promo cassette. If a full-length remix of that song exists somewhere, please, release it.

This isn’t the only mix that was left off here, and that is the maddening part. The dub mixes were forsaken, as was the Latin Rascals mix of “Notorious.” For hardcore fans of the band, these mixes are the most desirable of anything from the period. Thankfully, they’re all available on one super-cheap Remix EP, which means many of the people that EMI is expecting to fork out 30 bones for this set might decide to pay three and change instead.

Duran Duran: Big Thing

RIYL: Noise. ‘Cause you like waking up the house.

Big Thing doesn’t have the dark vibe hanging over it that Notorious does, but it’s definitely a mellower affair than the band had made before, despite the tone of its first two singles. Once you get past the “Warm Leatherette”-riffing “I Don’t Want Your Love” and robotic “All She Wants Is,” Big Thing is filled with ballads, mannered attempts at funk, and interludes (sigh). There are some hidden gems here, notably the Spanish guitar-kissed “Land” and the simple “Too Late Marlene.” Unfortunately there is a lot of filler as well, namely all of Side II except for “Land” and “Palomino,” and even “Palomino” is dangerously close to being filler. It’s mostly pleasant filler, sure, but no one is going to call “The Edge of America” or “Lake Shore Driving” their favorite song by the band. One also wonders how they were never sued for third single “Do You Believe in Shame?,” as it is a blatant rip-off of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Suzie Q.” Probably because it wasn’t a hit. If it had been, some lawyer would surely have come knocking.

One other interesting bit with Big Thing (and it receives a new – but brief – liner note from John Taylor to address it) is the decision to put the original version of “Drug (It’s Just a State of Mind)” back on the album instead of the remix, which appeared on the original pressing of the album but is now relegated to the bonus disc. John is absolutely right that this version is much more in line stylistically with the rest of the album…but the other version is more fun to listen to. Just sayin’.

Disc II contains two bombshells that should get fans to pony up: a full-length version of the much-loved B-side “I Believe/All I Need to Know” and a 12″ mix for “Big Thing” that is apparently so rare that no one could track down the remix credits. The inclusion of Shep Pettibone’s Eurohouse mix of “All She Wants Is” is a plus though, and like they did with Notorious, there is a download EP of all of the dub mixes from this era. The DVD will be this set’s big carrot, though, as it contains a live show from one of the band’s shortest tours (dig Simon’s Michael Hutchence-esque mane and the striptease the backing singers do during “Skin Trade”), and is loaded with songs that the band has not played live since.

The label got the mastering right with both albums, in that there are no obvious gaffes like the whole “Girls on Film” thing with the reissue of the band’s first album, but these sets deserve some kind of updated liner notes, an intro written by someone either intimately involved with the band or someone well versed in their catalogue. Instead, they include pictures and a folded poster of the band from the photo sessions shot at the time. That’s a big-time missed opportunity, since it’s unlikely these two albums will receive the re-reissue treatment that their first three albums will get down the road. Still, with the holidays fast approaching, the special editions of Notorious and Big Thing are the pitch-perfect stocking stuffer for that Durannie in your life – and you all have one, whether you know it or not – who would love to own these sets but needs to get baby a new pair of shoes. (EMI 2010)

Duran Duran MySpace
Click to buy Notorious: Special Edition from Amazon
Click to buy The Remix EP from Amazon
Click to buy Big Thing: Special Edition from Amazon
Click to buy The Dub Mix EP from Amazon


Classic Albums: Duran Duran, Rio

Man, do we love this series. Eagle gets away from their classic rock leanings and brings in four of the Fab Five – Andy Taylor, having left the band once again, does not participate – to dissect Duran Duran’s 1982 worldwide breakthrough album Rio, and while it doesn’t contain any of the bizarro production stories that were revealed in the episode dedicated to Def Leppard’s Hysteria, it is still a very entertaining and informative analysis of one of the biggest albums of the ‘80s. Nick Rhodes describes the origins of the opening sound on the album’s title track, and talks about how he remodeled “The Chauffeur” into an electronic track from its origins as an acoustic number. They even recruited David Kershenbaum to talk about remixing several Rio tracks to make them more “American” (smart move, that). John Taylor pulls out his bass and plays a few riffs, and reveals that he had to switch from his fingers to a pick and back on “Hold Back the Rain.” Russell Mulcahy is on hand to talk about the videos he shot in Sri Lanka (three videos in three days, yikes), and Bob Geldof is on hand to rave about the record, too. It’s a fine addition to an excellent series. May we suggest ABC’s The Lexicon of Love as a future candidate? (Eagle Vision)

Click to buy Classic Albums: Duran Duran, Rio


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