We’re examining my ROCK GPA® for Duran Duran, where albums are mercilessly rated on a four point grade scale. All bets are off as we enter Duran Duran’s wilderness period! Having become adrift on the seas of commercial music, there would be no longer any lock by the group on the top ten. No, any hits they would have after this would be the spoils of hard fought battles and certainly not delivered on a silver platter.
Duran Duran – Liberty | 1990 – 2
When I first heard “Liberty” I ranked it for years as Duran Duran’s worst album. Future events have robbed it of that distinction and subsequently, I’ve ranked it somewhat higher than my initial assessment. The first single was a shameless rip of Roxy Music’s jaunty single “Trash,” from their “Manifesto” album. That said, I admired their nerve and thought that “The Violence Of Summer” was an laudable example of stealing from the best. The other single, “Serious” was a melodic and almost laid-back concoction that offered subtle pleasures that one would have never imagined coming from the band. It’s the LP cuts that had me [strongly] disliking this album for years.
In fact, some of these cuts are so dismal, that I’ll admit to being blinded for years to some of this album’s admittedly meritorious material. “Hothead” on side one is merely a lunkheaded attempt at rock music. When I see the effete Nick Rhodes on the cover of this record, making a fist and adopting a scowl, all I can imagine is his nasally posh voice saying “yes, well now Duran Duran are a proper ‘rock’ band!” “Hothead” posts evidence to the contrary. But it’s fine art next to “Read My Lips.” I never would have imagined that New Wave survivors would ever turn an unfortunate George H.W. Bush sound bite into a song, but the attempt was made here.
“Can You Deal With It” asks a question I can only answer “no” to. Then it arrives on the scene. The Worst Song Duran Duran Ever Wrote®. Actually, the hapless band can hardly be blamed for the wretched excesses of “Venice Drowning.” Those are solely the handiwork of lyricist Simon LeBon. I can describe how vile this song is to my ears, but the lyrics will cut straight to the chase.
“Venice breeding / Shy chimeras of sex and violence / In the purple evening silence / Venice dreaming of a partner
Fill your arms with breasts of marble / From the cradle to the table / Coax this naked treasure / From your saviour
Come swim into my love / Come swim into my life
Divine blasphemer / Tempting holy beads of jism / With the scarlet catechism / Her lips will answer (Oh, her lips will answer)”
Even thinking about these lyrics provokes nausea. I am so very sorry for inflicting this on you if you’ve not encountered them before. But know ye this: there’s a very dark and deep circle of Hell awaiting LeBon for rhyming “jism” with “catechism!” Never before have such heights of pretension come cheek by jowel with such a repulsive attempt at eroticism as in this track. As my mood darkens if I listen to this album, this is truly a track that I make an effort to skip in playback if at all possible.
Next to this nadir, the relatively decent title cut, “First Impression” and “My Antarctica” are solid Duran Duran songs that stand with the group’s middling best. It’s for the best that “My Antarctica” was given a wider airing as the B-side of “Ordinary World” a few years later as the song deserved better than this album to be paired with.
Duran Duran – Duran Duran [a.k.a. The Wedding Album] | 1993 – 3.5
This was the first Duran Duran album I bought after enjoying “Notorious” seven years earlier. I’d bought the singles from “Big Thing” and “Liberty” but as I mentioned, my fandom got rekindled around 1992, so when “The Wedding Album” dropped, I was waiting to catch it. Not only were the [increasingly diminished] faithful buying, but this time there was a breakout hit single that took the band to the top ten for the first time since 1988. “Ordinary World” was nothing less than a lighter-waving, honest-to-gosh power ballad from the erstwhile New Romantic posers. Capitol Record leaked the cut to a Florida radio station and it built demand on word-of-mouth, prompting the label to issue the album a month earlier than planned. The weird thing was, it’s a pretty good song!
I’m not one for mid-tempo ballads by favorite bands. In fact, I often consider them the kiss of death [see OMD ca. ’91-’93 for way too many of them] but “Ordinary World” has a certain je ne sais quoi that somehow sets it apart from your typical power ballad. It has a pretty melody and crucially lacks the overblown stridency that normally accompanies such an attempt… at least until the end when Simon is really pushing it. Against all odds, the second single was another mid tempo ballad… and it didn’t suck either. The third single from the album was the catchy rocker “Too Much Information” sporting ironic lyrics and a much higher energy level than evidenced on the first two hits, but their new Adult Contemporary audience didn’t follow along. No matter, with two big hits, the album was a rousing success both commercially and artistically.
The rest of the material had a broader stylistic palette than the hits represented. Pacing and sequencing throughout the album is peerless, making for the best and most consistent Duran Duran listening experience since “Notorious.” Dance rock, funk, delicate ballads and even world music all get the nod by the group, who never falter with this program of winning material. I wish I knew who was responsible for the band performing a duet with Brazilian singer Milton Nascimento because the result is one of my all time favorite Duran Duran songs. Simon and Milton trade verses in English and Portuguese respectively, and the resulting track is one of haunting beauty one never could have imagined from the one time Tiger Beat phenomenon.
Like all of Duran Duran’s best albums, this is an unflagging program of strong material across the board. Album cuts like “Shelter” “Sins of the City” and “None of the Above” [which was actually a single on Japan only] have much to offer discerning listeners. There is a single cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Femme fatale” that comes off well, but I’ve never heard a bad version of that track. This album was such a success that the group stayed on the road long enough for me to catch the tour on three separate legs! At the end of it all, Duran Duran stood proud with a re-energized and expanded audience; having managed to pull their fat out of the fire in the best way possible. What would their next move be?
Duran Duran – Thank You | 1995 – 1
Whenever Duran Duran is flying high in April, expect them to be shot down in May. “Thank You” was supposed to be a quick, easy followup to the platinum selling “Wedding Album.” Instead, it turned into a career-killing albatross that drug its carcass behind the band for long months that turned into years before it finally shambled out of the root cellar like some sort of mutant hillbilly kinfolk you’d rather not talk about. By the mid ’90s, cover albums were everywhere. There were two that I heard that were high water marks [kudos to Icehouse and Webb Wilder]. The rest were ghastly exercises in career killing inertia. This was one of the worst.
It doesn’t start off too badly. The leadoff single, a cover of Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel’s “White Lines” isn’t bad, though I’ve not heard the original to compare it. It’s one of those ostensibly anti-drug songs if you just listen to the lyrics. After all, it’s called “White Lines [Don’t Do It].” The lyrics say “no,” but the music is another story! The music is saying “bring on the Peruvian and I’ll have a double order of supermodels!” The song itself is two-faced and I can’t fault the band for sticking with that tact. It’s not as though the members of the band were shy with the marching powder. Still, the track has a energetic delivery, abetted by Melle Mel guesting on his own song.
Then track two happens and all bets are off. Their cover of “I Wanna take You Higher” is a wonder of ugliness to behold. It’s a ham-fisted arrangement overflowing with horrendous ideas. If I didn’t already know and love Sly & The Family Stone, it would have been enough to put me off them for good! Words cannot convey just how harrowing this song is. Special mention must be made of the sickening backing vocals by Lamya.
The band had another single with Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day.” It’s not bad, but it won’t make you forget Glenn Gregory and B.E.F.’s superior cover from 1981. Nevertheless, it’s fine art compared to the rest of this album. “Watching The Detectives” is mercilessly slaughtered. “Lay Lady Lay” sucked to begin with and could they have picked a worse Bob Dylan song to cover? I don’t think so. The gruesome spectacle of DD covering Public Enemy’s “911 Is A Joke” in a no-one-asked-for-it hoedown/rap style is enough to cause a seizure as your brain attempts to staunch the pain… the incredible pain… at any cost!
Iggy Pop [“Success”], The Doors [“Crystal Ship”], Led Freaking Zeppelin [“Thank You”] all come under the axe here and the results are very, very ugly. Then, as the album is slouching towards its finish, the band ups the ante with a stunningly maladroit take on the Temptations “Ball Of Confusion.” Forget all about Tina Turner and Heaven 17’s electric version in 1981. Even Love & Rockets so-so take in ’85 sounded like pure psychedelic soul in comparison. All traces of funk in the song have been surgically removed …with an axe. The band dismantle their own cut “The Chauffeur” in a lame cover they call “Drive By.” If there were any pity in this world, the whole exercise would have ended there. But it didn’t. As if the first dismemberment of “I Wanna Take You Higher” wasn’t enough, the band offer “I Wanna Take You Higher [Again].” What else can one say about an album with two wretched covers of a once fine Sly Stone song?
Needless to say, any career momentum spilling off from their previous comeback stalled dead in its tracks. The Duran Duran career train was completely derailed once again.
Next: the freaky years…