Duran Duran – Paper Gods | 2015 – 2
[continued from previous post]
The fifth song on the program was the first not to have any involvement of the mysterious Mr. Hudson. And on the face of it, it seemed somewhat better for it. I felt like a Duran Duran song. It was only on closer examination that the criminal abandonment of John and Roger Taylor on the instruments that they were known for [drum machine and synth bass seems like a waste in this band] that the song’s weaknesses become apparent. The arrangement was pretty interesting and the use of live strings would be one of the few distinctions of this wildly eclectic album. Apart from the howler of a lyric quoted below.
“The whole world is an ink spot on a plastic spoon.” – Simon LeBon [Face For Today]
According to Nick Rhodes, the next song, “Danceophobia, was an attempt to go for a Michael Jackson “Thriller” vibe, complete with a guest star voice over ala Vincent Price. Only on this tune, Rhodes said they wanted a “sexy girl voice” instead. So why did they let Lindsay Lohan perform on it? She sounds like hell here [not that I’ve ever heard her before]. She sounds more than halfway to the dreaded “smoky, boozy” voice so tragic on a woman of her age. Not that it would have mattered who they picked as this one vies with “Last Night In The City” in very different ways for the worst Duran Duran song of all time.
The tune was a facile embarrassment; poorly arranged like a dehydrated ravepop tune from 1994 and was it was further hamstrung by the cheapest, nastiest production sound I’ve ever heard on a record that cost this much money. Apart from Dom Brown’s nimble guitar, the whole thing sounded like the result of someone daring Nick Rhodes to produce a song using an app from his smartphone. The synth hook will also stand as Rhodes’ worst moment on disc ever.
Fortunately, with the cliff edge so near and beckoning, salvation arrived by the arrival of two of the better songs on offer here. “What Are The Chances” is another DD patented Lighter-Waving Mid-Tempo Ballad® and like most of its kind, this one restores some dignity to the proceedings. Never moreso than here, for this has to be the most dignified LWMTB by the band ever. The guitar of The Red Hot Chili Peppers John Frusciante guests here for the first of three times on the LP for a bit of the now missing Warren Cuccurullo sound that served the LWMTBs of the 90s so well for this band. The middle eight features rich, slightly plummy strings that serve the song very well. My only complaint here, and I feel churlish to point this out, was that an opportunity was missed by not having a brass quartet to carry this one way over the top as the overkill would have only made this indestructible song even better.
“Sunset Garage” was a change of pace only in that the vibe was 180 degrees different from “Chances,” other than that, it was another marvelous Duran Duran song; albeit one that staked out a new zone on the pop map for them. This time, the tune had a Rick James New Wave Funk® vibe that gave way to pure Motown bounce on the choruses. The arrangement was bright and engaging, and went a long way to make me forget that this was yet another DD song minus the Taylor Twins on their instruments of choice. At least this song sticks to your ribs and manages to foster some enjoyment.
“Change The Skyline [featuring Jonas Bjerre]” began with a synth bass riff that was stolen straight out of the cover of “Wrap It Up” by Eurythmics. It had me really expecting the associated drum fill from that “Sweet Dreams” track, but it never appeared. Following the first verse, I was shocked by the appearance of Jonas Bjerre. His arrival on the song sounded exactly like a gratuitous Robin Gibb appearance from the late 70s where the Brothers Gibb – not content to stay merely on their own records, were all over the charts like white on rice. The keyboard solos by Nick Rhodes that were ripped screaming from Steve Winwood’s 1981 “Arc Of A Diver” did little to dispel this very retro notion. Neither an A-side nor a deep cut, this one just sat there, inert.Far better was the next song, “Butterfly Girl.” Good guitar from Mr. Frusciante here and the tune heavily featured the vocals of Anna Ross, but her reputation wasn’t enough to get her name appended to the title in brackets. Time for a new press agent, I think. That said, her performance on this song, where she duets with LeBon, was superb. It was the best guest vocal by far on this album, and it may be telling that this song was one of the handful on the album actually written only with the band [and Dom Brown] without Mr. Hudson snooping around the studio.
Then came the other song with the added Nile Rodgers/Mark Ronson firepower. “Only In Dreams” was another exercise in Chic-funk, but with a wattage far below that of “Pressure Off.” The ascending stairstepping synth hook reminded me of the 70s again. I was reminded of the Jeff Lorber Fusion for some odd reason. Both of the cuts with Nile have a Pro Tools Operator credit in the liner notes. Yes, it’s that kind of album. With that, the final track, “The Universe Alone” capped the standard edition of the album. It was another song like OMD’s “History Of The Universe [part 1].” Namely, a song about the end of the universe. It’s nowhere near as intriguing and catch as OMD’s take from five years ago, but within the context of this album, it functions as a somber capper to a careening clown car of an album that was as heedlessly eclectic as anything that DD has ever let go into the wild. This one had full strings again to set the mood and I like how Frusciante’s guitar solo at the climax began to disintegrate along with the rest of the song as it all goes into the red [shift], leaving only the choir left standing at the end. Kind of a kitschy climax to the end of creation, but there you are.
Next: …Bonus Round and wrapup