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“Missing” was the only song of this project that existed in Simon LeBon’s notebooks prior to Nick Rhodes calling him up and telling him that he wasn’t going on a holiday for six months, but was going to make an album with him instead. While the rest of this album was written as it was recorded, this was the single pre-existing piece. Ironically, the recording of it on the album was the track there that was the most redolent of improvisation. The arrangement was daring in its complete lack of drums. Never had Duran Duran ventured down this road before, but the co-producer Alex Sadkin had the bright idea or recording the song mostly live, with David Van Tiegham, Masami Tuschiya, and Mark Egan playing live in the studio with Simon in the vocal booth and Nick in the control room. Never had members of Duran Duran sounded so organic and impressionistic.
The guitar and fretless bass harmonics drifted like gas in the undefined space. The sound would be picked up later in Duran Duran on tracks like “The Edge Of America,” hit it was never really bettered than on this song. The tenor sax overdubs from Andy MacKay of Roxy Music were impeccably placed with great care. All of the track was definitely a case of less being more, as it gave mixer Larry Alexander [ironically an engineer from the Power Station studio] a chance to emphasize dubspace beauty that seemed as evanescent as the morning dew.
The beginning of side two began with a brief instrumental to act as an intermezzo for the album. “Rose Arcana” was only 50 seconds of palate cleansing but I loved how Van Tiegham added percussion highlights that sounded like flocks of birds taking flight as Nick Rhodes explored a lurching, sampled ambiance underscored by Mark Egan’s fretless bass. It set the stage perfectly for what wast to immediately follow.
The introduction of “The Promise” was deceptively small and finely etched as a sequencer loop danced like a waterbug on a pond’s surface for all of eight seconds before the song’s raison d’être hit with the force of a pile driver as peals of David Gilmour’s achingly beautiful guitar chords arced over the horizon of the song like birds heading into the sun. Simon’s wordless expression vocals, echoing their vibe.
Then when he began singing, his phrasing and timing was held back to hang back behind the beat to draw the listener into his web. While often his lyrical turns were cause for eye-rolling, one could not say that at this time. This song was a powerhouse on every level, and indicative of the caliber of this project that it featured a certain Sting on backing vocals.
At the Band Aid sessions, Nick Rhodes has noted how well that LeBon and Sting harmonized together and so the call went out to Sting, who was then prepping his big solo splash from The Police. Yet he found the time to add his turn here, as did Herbie Hancock. Let me say that all of the firepower her was fully utilized at the very highest level of accomplishment. The sound of “The Promise” was fully realized in the expression of what Arcadia were striving for. This was nothing of not some of the most beautiful music of the not very beautiful musical year of 1985.
In fact, the only comparable album project was Bryan Ferry’s solo album, “Boys + Girls” album. His first recording to follow the seminal “Avalon.” Like “So Red The Rose” it was another of those “no expense spared” albums with the cream of session players adding their magic. And wouldn’t you know it, David Gilmour also figured in that opus as well! I can imagine the phone calls from the Arcadia and Ferry camps to Gilmour’s management, with the bidding war leaving Gilmour laughing all the way to the bank. With the performance stamped on this song, he deserved every Pound. And it must have thrilled Rhodes to be competing with Ferry for the same resource. Plus, Arcadia netted Andy MacKay as well!
Every second of this album was dripping with sophistication and élan. When David Gilmour returned in the coda to solo with Egan and the band playing a call and response with MacKay, Van Tiegham, and Carlos Alomar joining in, it was a joy to hear. The 7:30 song more than earned its length with our applause.
Next: …Giving The Devil Some Ice