Duran 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.”
The 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.
The 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?