Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Why I Love Duran Duran



I first encountered Duran Duran at this cute girl's house when I was in 8th grade. My friend Karsten (this dude who was really into the A-Team and army crap) invited me and my friend Adam along to her place, and if I recall correctly, she had kind of a crush on me (or most likely on Adam, everybody had a crush on Adam). Most importantly, though, she had MTV. Neither Adam nor I had cable television and of course we'd heard about MTV but neither of us had ever seen it. I remember "Rio" being on, and thinking holy shit, this is so cool and sophisticated and awesome. I don't remember the girl's name, even, but I sure as hell remember "Rio."

I became an actual fan in 10th grade, though. This girl named Laurie was in our class, and she was from California, which was totally exotic. She had a cute valley-girl accent, and I was madly in love with her. She dressed exotically and professed her love of men with makeup. Also, she was obsessed with Duran Duran. I hung out with her constantly, despite the fact that she showed no actual interest in me, and as a result started wearing makeup (duh! I mean, c'mon, there was a girl at stake) and listening to Duran Duran. I went with her to the Record Shop in City Center mall to get the Arcadia album the day it was released.

Laurie fell by the wayside but my affection for Duran did not. I listened to "Seven And The Ragged Tiger" and "Arena" and Arcadia's "So Red The Rose" over and over again while I played "Ultima III" on my Commodore 64, and memorized every song. I argued passionately with my friend Neil who liked Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton that John Taylor was too a good bass player. I dressed like Nick Rhodes and got my ass kicked for being a fag. I was in a subculture that wasn't even present in suburban Minnesota -- "new romantic" meant you gave a girl flowers before you got her drunk on Southern Comfort and fucked her in the back of your Honda Civic.

And unlike most fickle music fans, I kept with 'em. I was already into goth music when "Notorious" came out but that didn't stop me from playing the cassette bald. I was getting nasty with a chick named Karla with a white-dyed crew cut who was into Ministry when "Big Thing" was released, and still I listened to it over and over in my dorm room. "Liberty" -- well, we'll skip that album for a moment, but at the height of shoegaze music, I still bought the "Wedding Album" and memorized it, too. Hell, I bought "Medazzaland" and I'm not sure anybody bought frickin' "Medazzaland."

For the love of god, you're saying, WHY?

My love for the band isn't just based on liking chicks or my nostalgia for early MTV, believe me. Duran Duran are -- believe it or not -- artists. Sure, they're mighty pretty artists and they looked good on television, but they are artists nonetheless. Like the other new romantic bands of the early 80s (Japan, Talk Talk, Spandau Ballet) they were attempting to meld the stylish nihilism of David Bowie with the danceability of Roxy Music and Chic, while coming to grips with the commerical/non-commercial possibilities of the synthesizer as well as the video medium. They just did it better than everybody else, and looked fucking great doing it, so they got played on the radio.

But so what? So did the Beatles, not to compare the two, but commercial viability isn't necessarily a gague of a group's artistic reach, positive or negative. If you go back and listen to the songs they did get hits with in the 80s -- "Rio," say, or "New Moon On Monday" -- and listen without predjudice, you find some exceptionally strange songs. LeBon's lyrics are dense and imagistic, not unlike Jon Anderson from Yes. And the music is synth-driven but oozes with style, not at all unlike "Scary Monsters"-era Bowie, and that's his weirdest phase -- listen to something like "The Chauffeur" off of "Rio" if you want something that's equally bizarre. They were pushing the envelope, they were just doing it in a way that people liked.

Oh, and it's sexy. Every song they ever did is deliciously, moistly sexy. If you wanna get lucky, put on Duran Duran. Seriously. "Notorious" maybe. Its just as sexy as "Avalon" by Roxy Music, and you will get some, if your moves are right.

This is all by way of saying that I've been relistening to their new album "Red Carpet Massacre" thanks to Superbadfriend, who posted the other day about feeling guilty over initially being turned off by the seemingly gratutious/pop-grab Timbaland/Timberlake presence and dismissing the record as being very not Duran Duran-ish. Which is essentially true -- it bears almost no resemblance, sonically, to the band on "Rio." That said: the band on "Notorious" and "Big Thing" and "Medazzaland" doesn't either, and that's because Duran Duran have always been about taking What's Going On Radio-Wise and filtering it through their British Stylish Sensibility and making awesome club-hits out of it.

It sure ain't a perfect record (their last, "Astronaut," almost was, though -- if you didn't get it, do) but it has a lot to love on second, third and fourth listens. Its chock-a-block with Timbaland's beat-boxy stuff and odd production tricks and it almost sounds like the band ain't there, but if you look closely, they sure as hell are. There's no question that's Nick adding synth stabs and washes, and John Taylor's plucky bass pops up all over the thing, it could be nobody else. And once you get used to the modernist sound, the songs start jumping out at you. "The Valley"'s rumbling bass and pulsing synths roil into a nice boil, while "Nite Runner" brings even more sexy back than Timberlake's capable of on his own. I even dig the nasty "Skin Dive," despite Timbaland's weird Cartmanesque "wicky-scratch" asides. I might like "Dirty Great Monster" best, though, it comes damn close to soul with a propulsive saxophone line.

I always stick up for the band against its detractors, occasionally coming to verbal blows -- and I think they're worth it, because I'm not sure there's a band in the history of pop music that's as divisively loved/loathed by their fans/enemies. And the ones who do love 'em frequently love 'em for the wrong reasons -- either as a pin-up group they loved as teenagers or as nostalgia, like Flock of Seagulls or something, who evoke a particular time/place. But Duran aren't boxed in as easily as that -- they keep growing, changing, scaring people, alienating others, and to me, that's a sure sign of real artists.

18 comments:

Jeffrey M. Rosado said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeffrey M. Rosado said...

What an interesting career this band has had from unexpected comebacks, cool side projects (I loved The Power Station and Arcadia records) and some of the best pop records of the 1980's...especially Union Of The Snake, New Moon On Monday, Is There Something I Should Know, Save A Prayer, Meet El Presidente, I Don't Want Your Love, A View To A Kill and their brilliant cover of White Lines which I remember them doing on the Letterman show; that just blew me away. Until I did some Wiki research on them, I had no idea that keyboardist Nick Rhodes produced Kajagoogoo's Too Shy which is an all time fave of mine (one of the greatest bass hooks ever)....

LAP said...

I always thought Andy Taylor's need to be T.Rex was hilarious and somewhat adorable. Duran Duran were my sister's favorite band (and seriously, she went from the soundtrack of Annie being all she'd listen to, to Rio) so I heard it all regardless of want. I did take her to see The Power Station.

plastic passion said...
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plastic passion said...

Duran Duran will always be my A+ number one band. Funny story: When I was 7 years old, I would ride my bike around my grandpa's neighborhood and pretend that John and Nick were riding along with me and fighting with each other over who had my affections. John always won, because I liked him the best.

Oh, man, time warp. I hadn't thought about that in years.

mimi said...

duran duran are amazing

Ashley! said...

Has Rolling Stone called yet?

Chris Hill said...

I can't say enough about my love for DuranDuran. They are one of my biggest influences. I mean we have a song called Simon on our first record. It's not a coincidence. Hey Jon remember when we covered Girls on Film? That was the most fun for me because John Taylor IS the coolest bass player of all time. And I'm serious when I say Best Bond song EVER. I love A View To A Kill. I haven't heard the new record because I'm lame and I never listen to ANY new stuff ever, but I think I'm gonna go get it right now. Just for the bass playing alone, I know I'll love it.

Jon Hunt said...

Ash: NO THEY HAVE NOT!! My phone's been on the fritz.

steve zahn said...

When I was a kid, in the dark days before my star rose to shine so blissfully over the earth, there was a day when an apparition of Simon Lebon appeared over the playground at my school. He was showered in a brilliance of gold and rode in on a fiery chariot and was quite possibly the most beautiful thing I had ever laid eyes on. He spoke to me. He said, "Steve Zahn, you will become super awesome someday, and when that time comes I will still be more awesomer than you because I'm like totally the awesomist." I'm paraphrasing, but that's the gist of it. I'm still really fucking cool, and more famous and hence better than all of you, but Simon Lebon is really, really fucking cool. I can't deny that. I've met him, he's awesome, we were all like totally famous together.

plastic passion said...

Hahahahah, Steve Zahn!

Ashley! said...

I'm waitin' to see what Jeff Goldblum is gonna add to this.

Anonymous said...

starting at age 11 i professed to despise D.D. because my older sister and her girlfriends obsessed over them every stinkin moment of the day. i hated my sister so i had to hate them. how stupid is that? i started this war over it and i could never go back on my position. but secretly i fell madly in love with them and i'd sneak into her room and listen to her records when she wasnt home, and i watched their videos and fell madly in love. then my mom took them all to Mpls for their first big concert there in '83? i think. they stalked D.D. at their hotel and the limo came around and john taylor's face was peeking out and they all grabbed the window as it slid by them and i think they all sobbed hysterically from that moment til probably 3 days after they got home. i got goosebumps when they told me about it.(though i'm sure i mustered up a fake yawn.) it truly was our version of Beatlemania in little ol' moorhead minnesota. i think maybe i'll fess up to her now. its been 27 years, so what the hell... kells

Anonymous said...

WOW, Jon, this entry knocked my socks off. For many reasons.

1) WTF, Rolling Stone *does* need to call you already

2) I was a NICK GIRL, I am a NICK GIRL, I'll be a NICK GIRL til I DIE, and will stay a NICK GIRL when I come back and haunt this sorry ass planet

3) "NMOM" and "The Chauffeur" are two of my fave DD songs of all time. When I first started my new job in DT L.A. I would play "NMOM" as I crept into Chinatown on my way in, and SLB's creepy Bowie impersonation STILL sends chills up my spine

4) I've always steadfastly respected their worth as artists, too. So many people dismiss them as "New Wave" pretty boys, but really, thank you for articulating what intelligent musicians they really are!

Superbadfriend said...

Thank you for writing about Duran and the artists they truly are. My love for them started after a very long stint of not listening to any music.

Duran has been such an inspiration to me as an artist. Their music and transformations over the years has been nothing short of awesome.

I have much credit to give you as well. Thanks to our chats over the years and especially this month, you inspired me to revisit the latest album. I wouldn't have done that if you had not started the ball rolling with the wikki wikki bits. I listened for the similarities from older works, and like you said, they are there.

Notorious, Medazzaland, Big Thing, Arcadia, Astronaut, even some songs from the Wedding Album and Liberty are among my favorites including of course, all the original albums we grew up with.

In fact. I loved them that much more when they pushed the envelope. The older works were fantastic and unique, but what followed was even greater than I could ever anticipate.

Not only is their music tasty, the artwork created for each album is a whole other topic I would love to get into one day. I can't say enough about the influence Duran Duran's art has had in the design world. I am talking about the tour books and album art. So much detail and depth. The layers and layers of art, typography, photography, video stills. Even the quality of paper used, overprints, varnishes, vellum overlays. The rich blacks and over saturated colors, and strategically placed graphic elements. I mean take a look at Big Thing, which was exceptionally designed and I don't think you have seen the RCM book, but it is gorgeous! I could go on and on...

I enjoyed reading your thoughts, and I am so glad you took the time to clear the air and remind us just how amazing they are and will always be. Thanks Jonny!

:)

xoxoxo

whatever-lexi said...

Just hearing Save a prayer (til the morning after)in my head can put me right back in my best friend's living room, stereo blasting and being in that ethereal non-drug induced altered state. I was in California but I could have sworn I was in some cool European country (though I'd never been). Brings a lump to my throat for times that never were and times that will never be again.

My boyfriend wore eyeliner for me, and that was the coolest thing.

whatever-lexi said...

Oops. I guess my nostalgia was one of the wrong reasons.

Jon Hunt said...

Nope, that kind of nostalgia is kinda beautiful!!