Duran Duran – Astronaut

Duran Duran - AstronautFace it, nostalgia for the 80s is back in. Old arcade games are being repackaged in battery-powerered, self-contained joysticks and sold to us one more time. TV shows from over 20 years ago are hot commodities on DVD. And bands are rising from the ashes of the new wave movement that met its ignominious end with the rise of the hair band era.

Now, to be sure, I’m not sure Duran Duran was ever, strictly speaking, new wave. They took some of the new wave’s synth wizardry and production techniques and dropped a thick, frothy layer of funky guitar licks on top of it – not really a bad mixture, truth be told. You’d be hard-pressed to find too many consistently good 80s albums as Rio. And you’d be equally hard-pressed to find a band from that era making as solidly listenable a comeback as Astronaut, their new offering, and the first in quite some time with all five of Duran Duran’s founding members.

Part of the real shock value of Astronaut is that, while the band has updated its instrumental sound ever so slightly – okay, okay, quite a bit – the defining sound that is Simon Le Bon’s voice, and the great harmonies from the group as a whole, hasn’t changed a bit. If anything, I almost think his range has gotten better with age. On the instrumental side, the synth-heavy tunes show some real evolution from the band’s 80s sound, but it’s in the guitar-centered songs where you’re in for a real shock – quite a few times, we actually get acoustic guitar, and played really well too. Andy Taylor was never a slouch in the guitar department to begin with, mind you, but he really wows me here.

4 out of 4Standouts include the damned catchy “Astronaut” with its euphoric synth sweeps and the well-chosen lead single “(Reach Up For The) Sunrise”, but those are just the two tracks that trip my trigger the most on the first listen – the whole album really is worth a listen. Who would’ve thought that Duran Duran could muster up a reasonable amount of musical credibility two decades down the road? Now the real trick is to see if they can stay together this time. If they can turn out more albums like this one, they have my permission.

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  1. (Reach Up For The) Sunrise (3:29)
  2. Want You More! (3:43)
  3. What Happens Tomorrow (4:09)
  4. Astronaut (3:28)
  5. Bedroom Toys (3:55)
  6. Nice (3:30)
  7. Taste The Summer (3:57)
  8. Finest Hour (3:59)
  9. Chains (4:50)
  10. One Of Those Days (3:50)
  11. Point Of No Return (5:02)
  12. Still Breathing (5:59)

Released by: Sony / Epic
Release date: 2004
Total running time: 49:53

Duran Duran – Decade

Duran Duran - DecadeWith a little bit of trepidation, I popped the retrospective collection of Duran Duran’s first ten years of hits into the CD player one night, only to come away from it with a reminder of how much I liked Duran Duran’s early stuff.

A lot of the material on Decade had the privelege of radio running it so far into the ground that it pierced the crust, rammed through the mantle, and continued playing right into the core of the planet. But with the benefit of time, hindsight and giving it a shot at an unbiased listen, it’s easy to see why – Duran Duran’s early singles were catchy as hell, loaded with new wave vibes, funky basslines, hard-edged guitar licks, and some of the best vocal harmonies anyone was doing in the early 80s. Period.

Naturally, the singles from Rio dominate the first half of the CD, but it was with “Is There Something I Should Know?” and “Union Of The Snake” that I was reminded of just how good Duran Duran could be when firing on all cylinders. Those songs are catchy enough to be repeat-track material. I still think Le Bon and company reached their apex with the Bond movie theme song “A View To A Kill”, which out of necessity (and tradition) elevated the production style to a slightly more epic level. I’ll probably get lynched by some McCartney fans for saying this, but it’s as good a Bond movie tune as “Live And Let Die” (in fact, upon further reflection, I think I like “A View To A Kill” better).

Sadly, what happened after that didn’t quite hold my attention.

The later songs didn’t grab me as much as their earlier efforts, with attempts to branch out in new directions. “Notorious” lived up to its name by just not doing it for me – it went into Chic-style territory that INXS had already more than adequately revisited by that time. Likewise, I always found the faux-jazzy “Skin Trade” irritating. “I Don’t Want Your Love” was almost a return to form, but almost made them sound like a rating: 3 out of 4boy band. “All She Wants Is” gets things back on track, so naturally the album ends there.

For all their attempts to reform and hit it big again, perhaps Duran Duran would do well to take a quick refresher course in how they made it into the spotlight in the first place – they’ve never gotten back to sounding this good.

Order this CD

  1. Planet Earth (4:07)
  2. Girls On Film (3:30)
  3. Hungry Like The Wolf (3:25)
  4. Rio (5:38)
  5. Save A Prayer (5:33)
  6. Is There Something I Should Know? (4:05)
  7. Union Of The Snake (4:20)
  8. The Reflex (4:25)
  9. Wild Boys (4:16)
  10. A View To A Kill (3:33)
  11. Notorious (3:58)
  12. Skin Trade (4:25)
  13. I Don’t Want Your Love (3:47)
  14. All She Wants Is (4:36)

Released by: Capitol
Release date: 1989
Total running time: 59:38

Duran Duran – Rio

Duran Duran - RioAlmost certainly the quintessential Duran Duran album – well, hey, it sure wasn’t Seven And The Ragged Tiger – and, oddly enough, it’s also my favorite of their output. It’s not often that my favorite album by any given group is also the one most people consider their best work. For example, ELO’s Out Of The Blue seems to be held up most often as the quintessential ELO album, the cream of that band’s crop. But I point to earlier albums Eldorado and A New World Record as better examples of what made ELO unique. The point of that example is that surely everyone remembers Rio, and I’d wager a good lump of money on Rio being the one Duran Duran album most people are likely to own.

They couldn’t pick a better one. Rio is a near-perfect distillation of all of the elements that made Duran Duran listenable…even if some of those things were dated even by the album’s 1981 release date. Prominent on Rio is a lot of very good slap-bass work, a bit of a holdover from the disco era in the early days of new age, but something which always gave Duran Duran a very distinctive sound. Lead singer Simon Le Bon never sounded better than he did here, and even though the songs are occasionally a little thin arrangement-wise, they’re among the best the band ever had to offer. My personal favorite is the ethereal “The Chauffeur”, which drops most of Duran Duran’s dance-beat signature for a nicely-paced, pure new-wave tune with loads of atmosphere. At one point I was crazy about “Save A Prayer”, a lengthy ballad, but today I have to admit it gets on my nerves ever-so-slightly. “Hold Back The Rain” and “Lonely In Your Nightmare” are great hit singles that rating: 3 out of 4never were, but should have been. Hit singles from this album include the overplayed “Hungry Like The Wolf” and the title track.

If you’re truly looking for the best of Duran Duran, I’d advise skipping the usual best-of compilations and picking up Rio.

Order this CD

  1. Rio (5:39)
  2. My Own Way (4:51)
  3. Lonely In Your Nightmare (3:50)
  4. Hungry Like The Wolf (3:41)
  5. Hold Back The Rain (3:50)
  6. New Religion (5:33)
  7. Last Chance On The Stairway (4:21)
  8. Save A Prayer (5:25)
  9. The Chauffeur (5:13)

Released by: Capitol
Release date: 1982
Total running time: 42:25