Rock GPA: Duran Duran [part 9]

duran duran - allyouneedisnowUSCD+DVDADuran Duran – All You Need Is Now | 2011 – 4

[continued from previous post]

So we’ve got a new Duran Duran album that seemingly has captured the band’s rock-disco ethos. But any fan could tell you that’s only one side of the band. Nick Rhodes love of arty obscurity is well known, and it was now time for a little of that sauce they used liberally for “The Chauffeur” to leave the bottle. The result was “The Man Who Stole A Leopard.”

kelisThe intriguing track began with unusual [for this band] phased synths sounding not a million miles off from the classic John Foxx “Metamatic” sound. Since the band were all big fans, I can only ask “what took so long?” The insect-like claptrap rhythm only adds to the feeling of machine-like dread that the cut builds. Then an inversion of the melodic line from “The Chauffeur” was added to the cut and the tension began to dispel as Simon LeBon shared call and response vocals with Kelis, as singer I was not familiar with. The juxtaposition of their vocals, where LeBon assumes the POV of the man and Kelis the leopard with the abundant string score by Owen Pallett gives the tune miles of atmosphere thick enough to cut with a knife.

It’s unusual for the normally free-associating LeBon to craft a lyric that holds up as a tight, storyline, but the doomed tale of possession and dominance gets its strength from a potentially absurd metaphor that was carried out with brilliant touches; none so audacious as the fake news story in the long [but brief sounding] song’s fadeout about a literal man who stole a leopard that seemingly informed the song itself. Bravo.

Once again, the pace shifted for the next song, “Other Peoples Lives.” But another oscillating synth loop, familiar from the title track, quickly gives way to a tight rhythm section that’s getting down to business. Simon’s vocals were stacked here into harmonies that popped even as he was writing another song about the fast-pace of modern life song. There are lots of these in the middle-late period DD canon. This one benefits by sly Rhodes organ riffs that playfully follow Roger Taylor’s stop-start backbeat a half beat behind for maximum hooks.

duran duran - frommediterraneawithloveEUDLAThe album’s second single was sadly only released digitally in Europe. That’s too bad as “Mediterranea” was a superb, languid seaside ballad of the lighter-waving variety. This time, for a change, it was led by Dom Brown’s guitar and Roger Taylor got to break out the scratcher for some atypical percussion on a DD tune. The chiming keys in the middle eight were as radiant as sun-dappled waves on this winning melodic pop song.

The band next dipped their toes into some of Giorgio Moroder’s bag of tricks with a muscular bit of rock-disco that hit the same stride that “Call Me” did back in their dawning era. “Too Bad You’re So Beautiful” was a powerhouse of rolling drum fills ripped straight out of “Hold Back The Rain.” I was amazed to see them plundering this tune for bits they could re-use yet again, since the “Rio” classic was always such a big favorite with me. I also appreciate the self deprecation that LeBon brought to the song as he outlines how his chances of conquest this time were slim to none. He actually refers to himself as a “deluded fool” here!

Ballads. Art. Disco. Could be that it was some time for Pop. “Runway Runaway” was packed with winsome pop melodies for a little something different from DD. This was a pop tune that could have been on “Heartbreak City” by The Cars as a deep cut. It was followed by “Return To Now” as a relatively straight string interlude of the “All You Need Is Now” theme indicating the third and final act of this album.

Most copies of this CD ended with the fourteenth track. “Before The Rain” was a slow, methodical variation on the vibe of “The Chauffeur” [again!] to bring the album to a stately climax; heavy on the [real] strings and synths. The track built with no rhythm used until after the first verse. Then it turned on the afterburners by the song’s middle where it burst into full Duran Duran life. It attained a plateau of dignified grandeur [as if these Japan wannabees could ever not want that]  before gradually fading out on what would be the climactic track on most copies of the album.

But I have the Best Buy copy. Instead, the last track began with a Speak & Spell® [shades of OMD’s “Genetic Engineering!”] spelling out “D-U-R-A-N–D-U-R-A-N” and with that the meaty guitar and synths of “Networker Nation” plied their tight, angular riffs to ratchet up the energy levels to a higher level than on “Before The Rain.” The song’s cold ending brings a little shock with the exhilaration, but it was an effective way of ending the album in a very different fashion. With an exclamation mark, of sorts Which is exactly how it should have played out on every copy, I think.

It’s not every day that old war horses like Double Duran get down to the brass tacks of doing what they do best and going with the flow. Most of their peers either can’t or don’t want to do this. Or seek to attain sales at any cost. That it took producer Mark Ronson’s status and intention to do this is something that we should all be thankful for. Fans who jumped ship would be well rewarded if they gave this one a spin. Intriguingly, this was the only indie album in the band’s long career. After getting dumped by Epic after two tries [the latter a commercial disaster], they retreated, licked their wounds and thankfully crossed paths with Ronson, who was flying high commercially and, most importantly, was a huge fan. 

He managed to convince the band that with bands like The Killers nicking their bag of tricks, there was no time like the present for the band to get down to brass tacks and deliver what they can do best; a melange of New Wave rock-disco shot through with a fine marbeling of pop hooks and atmosphere. With a chaser of the sort of  balladry that they have come to rely on effectively over their long and storied career. The band cannily pre-released a nine track version on iTunes that may have paid for all of the duplication and distribution of the physical copies which had five or more tracks a few months later since they were the label for this album. That was a good business strategy, though risky. Not everyone who bought the DL would necessarily spring for any of the more deluxe physical packages.

The crying shame was that this, the best Duran Duran album since “Notorious,” managed to only get to number 29 in the US album charts. It fell just short of the top ten in the UK. This was a pull-out-the-stops effort of successful artistic consolidation. There are no weak tunes on this album. It attains a vibrant, hour-long flow and more than an handful of the tunes were best-of-breed Duran Duran. When Mark Ronson set out to make the “album that should have followed Rio” he didn’t mess around. The band sat down with Ronson and guitarist Dom Brown and wrote strong material. All wheat/no chaff. Cut this album and it bled Duran Duran. More you can’t really ask for. When researching this album, I had expected that it would have been higher charting, and it was disappointing to find that even this winning effort received insufficient love from the masses. What could they hope to follow this one with?

Next: …Top Ten again…at what cost?

About postpunkmonk

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8 Responses to Rock GPA: Duran Duran [part 9]

  1. Echorich says:

    You captured side two perfectly Monk. The Man Who Stole A Leopard is high in my personal Duran Duran Canon. Before The Rain brings back memories of 81-82 when so few of my friends even put a toe in the Duran Duran waters and I was doing laps in a pool filled with their Night Versions.
    There’s a real symmetry if you listen to their debut and then All You Need Is Now. On the debut, the A side is top heavy with flash and hits while the B side gets deeper and really shows their inescapable potential. The same can be said of AYNIN and it’s likely down to Ronson’s approach from a fan’s point of view.
    I’m glad you pointed out the influence of John Foxx (I’ll give a nod to early Numan as well) and that nagging goal Duran Duran has always had to BE Japan. Credit there HAS to go to Nick Rhodes. I’m glad that 30 years on he still had that same reverence for the former and conviction to achieve the latter.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Bonus points there for pointing out how AYNIN mirrored their debut. It even ended with the string laden “atmospheric” track! If it was a snake, it would have bit me! I totally overlooked that angle.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – According to the DuranWikia, there’s an interesting backstory to “The Man Who Stole A Leopard.” It was 2007 and the band were discussing things among themselves. Someone asked if they had “installed Leopard” [Mac OS 10.5] on their computers yet. Someone else misheard “stole a leopard” and that phrase was found to be evocative enough to build a song around. Typical DD m.o. was to not add lyrics or even titles until very late in the songwriting game, but this was an exception.

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  2. Tim says:

    It appears that the track listing for the Target exclusive is also the track listing for the mp3 version that Amazon sells, if I am not mistaken.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – Close… but no cigar. The three bonus trax on Amazon are the same as on iTunes [or CD, for that matter] for the DLX ED of “Paper Gods.” The two tracks on the Target ed. remain exclusive to that pressing though “On Evil Beach” is only on the Japanese CD elsewhere. “Cinderella Ride” seems to be truly singular. At least for now.

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      • Tim says:

        Are you referring to Paper Gods or to All You Need Is Now? I was referring to AYNIN. It appears that one of the retailer exclusives has become the norm for the Amazon version, which, if I am right, is encouraging in squelching some of the game playing that goes on with releases like this. I am not advocating torrents of storage lockers per se but on the other hand I have little pity when this sort of game is played with a groups fans. Particularly one that is as long in the tooth as this group, or has as spotty a record on quality, the last people that you need to do this to are the people who have consistently bought your product.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Tim – Sorry, I thought you were speaking of “Paper Gods” It used to be so much more straightforward when there were singles to carry B-sides. And that’s what these exclusive tracks are; the modern equivalent of B-sides. I hate this single-free thing, but there are some wags that claim the album is dead and everything’s a single. When a group that I like wants their fans to buy multiple releases of albums, I generally sit the whole schmeer out! Often to my detriment. Goodness knows that projects like Jim Kerr’s “Lostboy” and AYNIN were excellent albums that I should have been enjoying from the point of release, but for the dreaded format paralysis.

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          • Tim says:

            I know that olde contracts often interfere with efficient distribution, however, I am utterly amazed with the internet that the content creators/providers have not grown more efficient at selling the lot online. I really don’t want to hear them whine about piracy when there are punters like you and me that are willing to give them our cash for their product. There’s no reason this can’t be easy, quick and efficient. Just amazes me, the wheel has been built for them, signed, sealed and delivered and they still fight it. I could easily list several items available right now as mp3 on Amazon uk that I cannot buy because of where I live.

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