The Arcadia Project: Down The Black Lace Rabbit Hole [part 1]

EMI | JAPAN | CD | 1990 | TOCP-6553

Arcadia: So Red the Rose – JPN – CD [1990]

  1. Election Day
  2. Keep Me In The Dark
  3. Goodbye Is Forever
  4. The Flame
  5. Missing
  6. Rose Arcana
  7. The Promise
  8. El Diablo
  9. Lady Ice

As an early adopter, I had gone sour on Duran Duran in 1983 when they had produced the labored and meretricious “Seven + The Ragged Tiger.” I gritted my teeth through the next year or so of the band and when they flew apart following the cash-in live album, “Arena.” I was fascinated as I saw the band fissure into it’s Dionysian and Apollonian factions with the guitarists teaming up with Robert Palmer and striking first with the Power Station project that scored a pair of top ten US hits. This left the remaining 60% of Duran Duran to push far away from the grit and leather of The Power Station to embrace the fastidious sound that they would explore as the trio Arcadia.

arcadia election day cpver artWhen the first single, “Election Day,” manifested, I was almost impressed by the finely etched results. I was still overly cautions after the fallout from the disastrous Post-“Rio” period. This was obviously a case of Nick Rhodes exercising his inner David Sylvian and making the sort of Art Rock that he’d previously hinted [very strongly, actually] at with “Secret Oktober,” the hastily written and recorded B-side that was somehow vastly superior to anything Duran Duran had recorded between 1983 and 1984. It was some months later when at a Peaches records, that I saw the import 12″ cut out of the 2nd “Cryptic Cut [No Voice]” remix of “Election Say” and felt that it was a safe purchase. For years that was my only Arcadia disc in the Record Cell. Because in 1985, I had transitioned to CD format, and pushed the brakes hard on the notion of buying any albums on LP format.

It wasn’t until 1990 when browsing in an import CD catalog [probably Sound City 2000] that I saw that someone, somewhere, was finally issuing the no-expense-spared “So Red The Rose” album on the preferred silver disc. According to Discogs, the Japanese version I was looking at was the first one in the world. Which was shocking to me, as I probably would have bought a CD of this far earlier. In spite of the platinum status of the album in America, and the essential marketability of Duran Duran, it took years to happen. I suspect that this was down to the scarcity of CD pressing plants [hint: there were three worldwide] in the 1985 landscape. “The Power Station” had two Top Ten singles, so it got the nod for a CD rather quickly. Arcadia managed only one and seemed to fizzle commercially in comparison. 1985-6 were the days when CDs were an afterthought for albums that had already proven themselves since the production facilities to make the discs were so scarce. So in 1990, I ordered my copy and finally had the vaunted object at my disposal.

It began with industrial drums clamoring and hissing amid the hypnotic swirl of vocal soundbites and synthetic horn stabs. The odd guitar lick applied with all the care of a surgeon as the lurching, gangling rhythm track eventually resolved itself into a suitably baroque canvas upon which Simon LeBon could paint this most fantastic of portraits. His insinuatingly louche vocal populating the song like a street pimp from some unauthorized “Blade Runner” sequel.

This was dacadent Art Rock built more for headphones than for the dancefloor. You could dance to it, I suppose, but it more properly functioned as a film on its own with little need of a video. Digital fingersnaps popped in nearly binaural stimulation in the highly percussive mix. The whole shebang sounded like it was trying to give Trevor Horn a run for his money in the cybernetic rock sweepstakes that were exploding by 1985. I can imagine Nick Rhodes and producer Alex Sadkin having two 48-track automated SSL boards and slaving them together to craft this album since 96 tracks would obviously be needed. And that was for “Election Day” alone.

Next: …Flame Job

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21 Responses to The Arcadia Project: Down The Black Lace Rabbit Hole [part 1]

  1. Tim says:

    Love this album, glad you’re giving it the written once-over. Thanks!


  2. schwenko says:

    Sound City 2000 !!!


    • postpunkmonk says:

      schwenko – Towards the end, I started getting burned on them after years of happily buying import CDs. Then I think they had a bad ending, with possibly FTC involvement. But in the pre-web era those catalogs were the bomb. None of those titles was vheap, but they made me so happy to get them! I’ll never forget the thrill of finally having Chris Isaak’s “Silvertone” on German CD in 1987…only a year after finally finding the LP [which took a full year].


  3. brynstar says:

    Love “Election Day”. I reckon this could’ve been a huge DD song. I’m a big fan of “Tiger Tiger”, and it feels in line with that instrumental in its lush, ethereal vibe. Also a big fan of “The Flame” and “Missing”.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      brynstar – If DD had done election day it would have sounded so different. I didn’t think I’ve ever heard as busy a mix in my life. Nick could only sctratch that itch without too many Taylors poking around! “Missing” is indeed fascinating. It seemed to be an outlier to the vibe on future explorations like “Edge Of America,” but more on that later.


  4. Echorich says:

    Election Day is a brilliant first taste and album opener for Arcadia. To succeed without Two Taylors®, LeBon, Rhodes and the other Taylor needed to have some fall back to the ‘possibilities’ of Duran Duran, while pushing the “art” envelope as they saw fit. Your comment that Election Day would have sounded different if The Two Taylors® were involved is spot on.
    Monk, you get an extra credit mark for proper use of “louche” in a sentence!
    As for the production. The first time I heard Election Day, with the Grace Jones cameo I was convinced it was a Horn production. Upon seeing Alex Sadkin’s name as producer, I was well impressed.
    Oh as as for the Cryptic Cut Version, it “makes the cut” when it comes to impressive 80s remixes in my book. It’s uses just the right amount of samples, veers heavily in a Roxy Music workout with Andy Mackay’s brilliant sax solo. Kervorkian and St. Germaine knew what they were doing in those days… Rhodes must have had to really control himself working with ex Japan/Ippu-Do guitarist Masami Tsuchiya!


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – This was a production as ornate as anything Horn was doing with ZTT at the time. The large chiunks of Jazz DNA via Egan and Hancock sure didn’t hurt the sauce. Speaking of Masami Tsuchiya, when finding a photo of the artiste to include in today’s post, I came across his “Rice Music” album in Discogs. An amazing record with Jansen, Bill Nelson, Percy Jones, Mick Karn, Hideki Matsutake, and Ryuichi Sakamoto all figuring in the result. WOW! I need to hear this NOW… and I see that I have added it to my collection seven years ago. I had forgotten that I HAVE this [I got it from Ron Kane’s discard piles when visiting him that one time in 2015] and have never played it yet!!!!! Somebody get me medical help!


  5. RichardAnvil says:

    It has to be said that ‘So Red The Rose’ is a masterpiece and has been described as the best Duran Duran album that wasn’t. Just looking at Rhodes, especially in the early days, he is so obviously influenced by Japan/David Sylvian (if you compare the sound and structure of Planet Earth it’s almost identical to Quiet Life) so it’s no surprise that he created this wonderful ‘art’ album. To be honest the only two DD albums I still listen to are Rio and this one. It sounds as fresh and vibrant now as when it was released. It’s good that Rhodes just decided to do what he wanted rather than trying to create a hit. Also it’s a rarity in that it has a huge rostrum of famous guest artists but doesn’t sound bloated or self absorbed. I was so pleased when they released the complete box set of everything a few years back, a treasured possession, which has the joy of over 5 mins of Rose Arcana. The only disappointment is that after this DD took a sharp left turn in relation to their sound and have never sounded this good again. Never knew it took so long for this to get a CD release which sounds crazy.


    • RichardAnvil says:

      I’ll just correct myself, the exact quote is ‘“the best album Duran never made”. In fact I would say it was the last Duran Duran album in their ‘classic’ style. One thing I have only just realised after all these years is that the album cover is a visual sequel to Rio, which can’t be a coincidence.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      RichardAnvil – Interesting that you cote the “Planet Earth/Quiet Life” paralells, but on one of the Duran Duran threads on the Steve Hoffman Music Forum, some wag recently mentioned its similarity to “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy…!!!” And I think that theory also hold some water, as we know DD were all Rod “The Mod” Stewart fans as well. And yes, the all-atar cast managed to some off without showing any bloat. That was exceptionally adroit considering that the whole project [apart from “MIssing” which was the only finished song brought into it from Simon’s notebooks] was pretty much cooked up in the studio with the clock and budget ticking. I thought about getting the Arcadia DLX RM a decade ago, but since I had the “Heaven’s Eyes” bootleg mix disc [which seemed of very high quality], I demurred. And all the while the ONLY DD oriented laserdisc not in my Record Cell was the Arcadia one! I was a bloody fool!


  6. Bridget says:

    Haven’t heard the album/CD but I *love* that art on the cover. I spent a little time in Japan while in college and really became enamored of their design philosophy and the mash ups with Western design philosophy…..I would probably buy the album just for the cover art. 🙂


  7. zoo says:

    In my humble opinion, this is the best album featuring any member of Duran Duran.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      zoo – It’s right up there with their DD acmes. Perhaps one of four albums I’d say were their best legacy. Two would be “Rio” and “Notorious,” but the fourth pick is elusive. It’s hard to pin it down for me, but there’s one more in there, I’m certain.


  8. JT says:

    Tech note:

    “48-track automated SSL boards ”

    Mixing boards have *channels*, tape machines (or DAWs, today) have *tracks*.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      JT – What can I say? We always treasure your helpful pedantry yet I am a product of my childhood. In 1971, Emerson, Lake + Palmer recorded the album “Tarkus.” It was engineered by Eddie Offord, and the final track on the album was called “Are You Ready Eddy?” It was tribute to their engineer and the 4th verse included these lyrics:

      “Well, are you ready, Eddy, to turn your sixteen tracks on?
      (Eddy edit, Eddy, Eddy edit)
      Are you ready, Eddy, with your sixteen tracks?
      (Eddy edit, Eddy, Eddy edit)
      Are you ready, Eddy? A bit of vibing is all it lacks
      (Eddy edit, Eddy, Eddy edit)”

      So at a tender age, I was exposed to Greg Lake calling it a “16 track” board. Maybe the nomenclature had changed to “channel” at the time, a generation later, when you were getting your engineering wings. Maybe it was a British thing? But that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


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