Monday, September 10, 2012

Glamour Boys: Duran Duran in the 1980s (Pt. 3--The Model For All Years)


(I'd have posted a hi-res pic if everything from the title to the uncomfortable relationship between the colors to the random strip of tiger pattern didn't piss me off so much.  Then there is of course the title of the album itself.)

Duran Duran brought in producer Ian Little to cultivate the foxy music babylon.  The completely unappealing title refers to the band members and the two men it took to manage them at the time, with the "ragged tiger" representing success.

Yeah, they'd reached that point.

Hanging with Warhol, getting hospitalized for "nose problems," dancing barefoot on smashed vodka bottles, publishing alleged art books, pursuing models then dumping them after a fortnight with no hoo-hah, and even taking wives...t'was the Duran era.

Music was still somehow at the center of it all, and after an album which managed to be both brilliant and popular, it was time to see how much heat the band could take without cracking.

"The Reflex"--The "so-gouda-it's-good-huh?" remix is the one most folks know (which made popping the cassette into the deck for the first time real interesting).  The band was not happy with the original's lack of "hit potential" (whereas I could give a toss) and sent the tracks to Nile Rodgers with a plea to work magic.  After waving around some steel drums, wooden blocks, and vox trickery, a rabbit came out of the hat, and the Duran boys had a #1 smash on both sides of the pond.

Nineteen years on, I can say confidently that I prefer the original version.  The things about the single remix that helped endear me to "The Reflex" as a young girl simply haven't aged well.  The fade-in is lightweight.  The "why-yi-yi" breakdown is superfluous filler.  Simon LeBon's words are ridiculous enough on their own.  I like them that way.  The man acknowledges his absurdity:  "Every little thing the reflex does/Leaves you answered with a question mark."  In other words, the song doesn't mean shit.  Thank you, good night, drive safely.

Now what to dig about the original?  The intro, with the guitars trying to mask their burps and groans.  The refreshing lack of steel drums, the one instrument along with French horn that has absolutely no place in a rock song.  And of course, at no point during the original version do we get:


I love Nile Rodgers, I mean just this weekend I watched Coming To America and marveled at his soundtrack work, but sometimes a red wheelbarrow is just a red wheelbarrow.

"New Moon On Monday"--The video--which the band despises, as it makes them look like derelict ponces--is overlong and confusing.  Whereas the song is perfectly structured and confusing.  (And the very beginning reminds of me of Red Rider's "Lunatic Fringe," so, another check in its column.)  Despite no overhead handles to grip, "New Moon" is still a smooth ride, with a strong rousing rebel chorus that is in competition with "Hungry Like the Wolf" for Best Duran Chorus Ever (and by default, Best Pop Chorus Ever).  Songs like those you don't listen to just the once.

"(I'm Looking For) Cracks in the Pavement"--"My head is full of chopstick."  Just the one, then, sweetie?

"If I had a car/I'd drive it insane."  Now that I wish I had written.

This one's about thwarted ambition, which LeBon knows nothing about at this point in his life.  Once upon a time he did, but after a certain amount of records sold, money earned, and vaginas entered, a man's hardscrabble past is instantly expunged from the permanent record.  None of which invalidates the song.  It's fine.  But whereas the pair of tracks prior to it sounded like lush condos, "Cracks" is a one-bedroom walk-up.  LeBon's a sex-god Pynchon, you see, too distracted by his own fabulous brain-games to play well with others.

"I Take the Dice"--One could only hope that Andrew Farriss taking Jerry Casale's place in Devo would ever sound this good.

"Of Crime and Passion"--Seven falls short of Rio in the "pop masterpiece" stakes, but certainly not for lack of effort.  "Of Crime" stumbles about in the manner of "Dice" just before, but this one has weight behind it, and a gleam of cognition in its eyes, so it deserves some attention paid to it.

"Union of the Snake"--Duality is the theme.  First, the boys take inspiration from two sources:  Bowie's smash comeback "Let's Dance," released earlier in the year, and the Tantric lore of Shiva and Shakti.

Imagining that Shiva (male energy) is at the head and Shakti (the female energy, represented as a cobra) is at the feet, Shakti uncoils and slithers upward, meeting Shiva at the head.  This melding of the male and female energies can be understood as the actualization of the soul, a conciliation of one's passive and aggressive strengths; but I suppose it's more fun to see the word "Tantric" and apply the sexual union sticker on this one.  And it is pop pop pop music after all, where all songs are about fucking, except the ones about fucking, which are actually about fame.

The actual song does it up big-style, managing yet again to eroticize synthetic sounds, and topping it all off with a Stay-Puft Marshmallow Monstrosity of a chorus.  I am at it's beck and call forever.

"Shadows On Your Side"--The subject is fame.  Write about what you know.  Write about what you know you can hammer into the fucking ground till the Earth's core begins to bleed.

The music would fit tidily in with the Ninja Gaiden series of video games.  Oh those fucking birds!  Duran Duran will kick their asses whilst leaping over tigers whilst decapitating mercenaries with kitanas whilst breathing fire whilst retrieving the ancient golden demon statue of ancients!  'LET'S FUCKING GO!

"Tiger Tiger"--An instro to show off chops.  And, presumably, sticks.

Dedicated to the tigers in Ninja Gaiden, and the fun to be had jumping over them.

"The Seventh Stranger"--Originally the title track, until some kind of sanity prevailed.  Pity it didn't stay around.

All the sounds bouncing around here intrigued me as a kid--less so now, which is par for the course, but it's still a minor gem--expertly threaded, keenly pressed, and worn oh so well.  Seven would have benefited from a few more songs in this vein.

The singles are spectacular, but the first two records laid waste to the conventional wisdom that 80s pop couldn't sustain a long-player.  LeBon is in the pocket so snug you'll never want to take your jeans off, and the band are on top of their game still, but too often the melodies are unchallenging to mind and body.  The malaise of massive success has taken up space in the guest bedroom, and unfortunately, it would not vacate the premises until long after another resident of the palace Duran already had.

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