The Arcadia Project: Down The Black Lace Rabbit Hole [part 2]

\Arcadia photo by Dean Chamberlain
An Arcadia portrait by the master of the long exposure, Dean Chamberlain, seems to have used loaners from Madame Tussaud’s in lieu of the actual band. Yet fealty was still paid to The Master, Bryan Ferry. Note the white socks.

[…continued from last post]

Throughout it all one could hear Carlos Alomar’s rhythm guitar arcing an elegant line throughout the percussive mix. And it was a very percussive mix with not one but two, top flight percussionists throughout the album. Both Raphael De Jesus and David Van Tiegham. Given the impressionistic writing and recording on the project, it could well be that both were present in the mixes that François Kevorkian and Ron Saint Germain provided on this cut.

The caliber of this production was cemented by the appearance of none other than Grace Jones on the spoken word middle eight. The mix lost density for a few bars to let Ms. Jones take the spotlight only to see it return when she had her say. The song’s languid, slow-motion Art Funk was capped with a Andy MacKay sax solo in its coda.

Sure, sure. It was all a bit over the top for the pop charts, but that was obviously the point. As Rhodes recalled, mixing the album was a complex and time consuming experience. On “Election Day,” one can hear the layers of sound washes, like watercolor on paper, with sonic filigree spread across the stereo spectrum. The results were quite breathtaking even as they flirted with the dread of overworking. Listening on good headphones is, as Carlos Alomar, aptly put it, an “ear candy” experience par excellence.

Kevorian mixed this time with Sigma Sound Studios engineer Mark Jay. After that over-the-top gauntlet thrown up front, “Keep Me In The Dark” was a throwback to a simpler, less dense, but no less beautiful sound. Maybe it was achieved in half the tracks used for “Election Day.” Mr. Rhodes was leaning heavily on the sampled textures here but managed to invest the sprightly intro with a strong sense of dynamics that kept interest high. Plucked guitar strings were doubled and delayed on split channels to maximum stimulation. The modal guitar line coursing through the chorus was close relative to the same kind that Andy Summers had made famous in “Every Breath You Take” but the tone was far more playful here. And finally, Simon LeBon’s sensitive vocal carried the strong melody to the fore to delight the ear and heart.

arcadia - goodbye is forever cover art USA“Goodbye Is Forever” was the second single in America and sported a percussive funk vamp intro. The synth riff hook strongly telegraphed the very similar one that would come the next year in the title track to “Notorious.” While much of this album was an outlier to the funky approach to come on the next Duran Duran record, the overall vibe here was more ornate and baroque. While the synths and drum machine were paramount here, the subtle bass line that Nick [Pat Metheny Group] Egan instilled in the track somehow kept it moving  forward at a languid pace. With all of the clattery percussion that David Van Tiegham had to offer standing in sharp relief to the smooth string patches that Mr. Rhodes was investing the song with.

arcadia - the flame cover artAt first the heavy gating on the beatbox in the intro left one suspecting that this might have been a Power Station track that somehow slipped into the mix? But the sampled metallic percussion managed to dissuade that notion. And the appearance of …Ladies and Gentlemen…Ms. Grace Jones, speaking this time in Italian, no less, brought home the fact that this was indeed, Arcadia.

This time out the distinctive touch of Raphael De Jesus on the conga rolls in the intro let us know that the second percussion star on the album was getting the chance to add his sauce to the tasty mix. Dancing in a tango with Nick Egan’s fretless bass as Rhodes added playful synth stabs as the flirtation with Latin rhythm and vibe was yet another telegraph to the “Notorious” sound to come.

The chorus was heavy on the synth horn stabs from Nick, adding perhaps a threads to the Duran Duran song “A View To A Kill” which sported a similar chorus hook and was recorded prior to the Arcadia sessions. In any case, I’m glad that Arcadia revisited the sound. I never thought that “A View To A Kill” gelled particularly well, while “The Flame” was superior in every way. A redemption of that seemed like a heavy-handed bite of the Art Of Noise’s sampled POV put to a much better use in this far better song.

Masami TsuchiyaIf the band were going to indulge in metallic noise guitar, how much better was it that they invited the great Masami Tsuchiya from Ippu-Do [and the gent who played on JAPAN’s “Tin Drum” tour] to become a part of the three member core of himself, Van Tiegham, and Egan that propelled the Arcadia sessions? Tsuchiya’s solo on the middle eight swoops and groans with an animal grace as synth stabs and the eternal percussion of the album circle around him to cap off one of the best singles from this fascinating album.

Next: …Missing Inaction

About postpunkmonk

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16 Responses to The Arcadia Project: Down The Black Lace Rabbit Hole [part 2]

  1. jsd says:

    The whole Arcadia project is a real joy. You could tell they were over the moon getting to play with their heroes like Alomar and Mackay. Who wouldn’t be excited? Record label gives you an essentially unlimited budget and says do whatever you want with whoever you’ve been dreaming about playing with for years. Simon & Nick really rose to the challenge too of meeting these great instrumentalists with great songwriting. I listen to this album once every couple of months and it still stands up.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      jsd – As Nick Rhodes had stated, they made so much money for EMI that there was no way that they could say no to the project. The interview that Tim cited had Rhodes saying that it may have never turned a profit [for the band at least], but aren’t we lucky that such indulgences were once given flight?

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  2. Fascinating reading. I just learned a lot

    Like

  3. zoo says:

    Monk, great stuff as always! Though as a big fan of Pat Metheny Group, I need to correct you. It’s Mark Egan, not Nick. :-)

    Like

  4. negative1ne says:

    hi mr monk,

    to me, arcadia was a strange project. i couldn’t stand election day, and grace jones.
    but i did recognize simons voice, so that made it interesting. the other singles were
    much better.

    to me, the highlight, and only song that really stands out is ‘the promise’, especially
    with sting on there. it was epic, and unfortunately the remix was just a rearrangement
    to me. i ended up trying to find the two colored UK sleeves for it.

    eventually years later, got the deluxe edition, the vinyl singles, etc. even 1 of the 3
    bootleg argentinian? cd single boxsets. there was one in red velvet, there was another
    with 4 singles, and the one i had with 5 singles. i also picked up a stray bootleg cd-single
    of ‘keep me in the dark’.

    i know there were expensive laserdiscs for this, but ended up getting a cloned DVD with
    all the extras. i have to admit this is way better than Notorious, but to me thats not saying
    a whole lot. yes, the album was super experimental, maybe too experimental, and there
    was some filler tracks on it. there was some good single in there, and i think that justified
    the project. and don’t even get me started on power station (mk1), ughh.

    later
    -1

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      negative1ne – So I take it you didn’t like The Power Station? I like the first album fine. It’s not a peak of Western Civilization, but I thought it had a few great tunes. “Communication” was a classic. “Murderess” was a missed single. Now the second one [which I saw the tour for!] but only found the CD ages later, was the one Robert Palmer album I could find no merit in. And that’s saying a lot! Agree that “The Promise” was totally epic but the LP mix was definitely the thing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • negative1ne says:

        Hi Mr. Monk, agree about your observations about the power station.
        I didn’t care for the t rex cover, or some like it hot either. Robert Palmer
        sounded out of place at times.

        But yes, ‘communication’ is a classic, and the much better cover of
        ‘harvest for the world’ was super catchy, and i wished that had been
        a single instead. [They didn’t seem to care much for b-sides or remixes,
        and the ‘communciation’ one was sadly just an afterthought]. I did find
        the promo 12 inch of ‘murderess’. And I have to admit the semi racy
        cartoon artwork of women, was pushing boundaries on the covers,
        and the videos.

        well, the duran members did set out to work on their own projects, so i have
        to give them that much. however, i’m not sure that either band accomplished
        anything near what duran duran would have done.

        later
        -1

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  5. Pingback: The Arcadia Project: Down The Black Lace Rabbit Hole [part 3] | Post-Punk Monk

  6. Tim says:

    I remember hosting a small party when The Power Station album was new and my significant other at the time quipping that she wondered if they could mix the drums just a bit higher?
    Both are solid albums that were good then and good now and honestly aged better than most of what was contemporary to them has.
    No shout out for the cover of Harvest For The World? I thought that was one of the stronger tracks on the album that didn’t overplay or underplay the talents of everyone involved.
    The odd thing out with the presentation here is that Duran Duran had, up to this point, really rocked the sartorial part of their image and in the Arcadia promotonal material they long dreadful. Grubby hair, snuffing out the New Romanticism for what….baggy bunched up socks, Nick? I would venture that was the lingering effects of their narcotic indulgences at that time.

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